Marcos Baghdatis ends Marat Safin’s threat at the Australian Open |

Marcos Baghdatis ends Marat Safin’s threat at the Australian Open

John Pye
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus celebrates after defeating Russia's Marat Safin in a Men's singles second round match at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, Thursday, Jan. 17, 2008. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)

MELBOURNE, Australia ” Marat Safin won’t be a problem for Roger Federer at this Australian Open.

Marcos Baghdatis took care of that, downing 2005 champion Safin in a momentum-swinging five-set match that stretched into Friday morning and completed the second round.

Safin lurked as a dangerous floater in the draw because his slide down the rankings to No. 56 due to injuries meant he was unseeded for the tournament.

He beat Federer in the semifinals here three years ago, breaking up Federer’s four Australian Open titles.

But Safin wasn’t sure his game would have stacked up against Federer’s this time. Nor is he sure anybody else’s will, either.

“Roger Federer is a different level player,” he said. “The way he’s moving right now, full of confidence.

“And, of course, after being the No. 1 in the world and winning 12 Grand Slams for the past five years … he’s the best by far. So I don’t think anybody on ATP Tour can be compared with him.”

In a match packed with extended rallies and racket-throwing antics from Safin, Baghdatis held on 6-4, 6-4, 2-6, 3-6, 6-2.

Both players put in everything, with Safin making a diving, rolling stretch to pick off a passing shot for a winner in the fourth set and Baghdatis awkwardly doing the splits when he slipped on one point and tumbling onto his back on another.

Baghdatis, a Cypriot who won over Melbourne’s large Greek population during his run to the final two years ago, had plenty of support to lift him after Safin broke him early in the third and fourth sets.

He pulled ahead 3-0 in the fifth and finished in 3 hours, 13 minutes by breaking Safin for the fifth time.

Baghdatis is one of three losing Australian Open finalists still in contention ” a list that will certainly be reduced by at least one in the third round. He will play 2005 finalist Lleyton Hewitt on Saturday.

Hewitt, in his 12th attempt to end a local drought at the Australian Open that stretches back to 1976, overcame a small lapse in the third set to beat Asian wild card entry Denis Istomin in four.

Fernando Gonzalez, who lost last year’s championship match, beat South Korean Lee Hyung-taik 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4.

Federer has reached the finals of the last 10 Grand Slam tournaments and won eight of them, losing twice to Rafael Nadal at the French Open.

Despite his imposing reputation, even Federer concedes he sometimes visualizes himself in another player’s clothes.

After his straight sets win over Fabrice Santoro, the post-match interview turned to another form of entertainment.

Four-time Grand Slam titlist and now TV commentator Jim Courier asked Federer if he played tennis video games and, if so, which player does he pretend to be?

“What do you think?” Federer said, before chuckling and admitting something else: he’d like to know what it feels like to have the muscular frame of Nadal or the booming serve of Andy Roddick.

“Honestly, I do change,” he said. “I like to play as Rafa to see what a muscle game is like. Or have a big bomb like Andy. It’s a little way of feeling like that sometimes.”

Nadal and Roddick are into the third round and playing Friday. Nadal faces No. 28 Simon Gilles and sixth-seeded Roddick is against Philipp Kohlschreiber in a night match.

Before that, No. 1 Justine Henin is aiming for a 31st consecutive win when she takes on 25th-seeded Francesca Schiavone in the opening match on Rod Laver Arena.

Last year’s two women’s finalists follow each other on Vodafone Arena, with defending champion Serena Williams facing No. 26 Victoria Azarenka and fifth-seeded Maria Sharapova against another Russian, Elena Vesnina.

Serena Williams combined with sister Venus Williams on Thursday for a win in their first doubles match together at a Grand Slam since 2003.

It was a good warmup for the third-round for Serena, and a chance for Venus to blow off some steam after making 44 unforced errors and struggling with her serve in a grinding 7-5, 6-4 win over Camille Pin.

Eighth-seeded Venus Williams next plays No. 31 Sania Mirza of India. No. 2 Svetlana Kuznetsova, No. 4 Ana Ivanovic, No. 6 Anna Chakvetadze, No. 9 Daniela Hantuchova and No. 14 Nadia Petrova joined them in the third round.

No. 3 Novak Djokovic and No. 10 David Nalbandian, two men who beat Federer late last season, also advanced to the third round.

Nalbandian, 8-8 career with Federer and with the most recent two wins coming in October, is the only player still in the draw who has beaten Federer at Melbourne Park. He won their fourth-round match here in five sets in 2003.

Federer is now 9-2 against Santoro, who at 35 was the oldest player in the draw.

He was happy to play along with Santoro’s deceptive slice and dice in what was almost an exhibition to celebrate the veteran Frenchman’s record-breaking 62 Grand Slam tournaments ” up to a point.

When Santoro pleaded for mercy on match point, gesturing at the scoreboard and suggesting the match go on a little bit longer, Federer had a laugh, then finished him off 6-1, 6-2, 6-0 with a serve-and-volley.

Federer won the last 10 games, finishing 53 winners and only 18 unforced errors, then jumped over the net to shake hands with Santoro.

“It’s always a tricky match against him,” he said. “But you know it’s going to be fun. And this is what it’s supposed to be, this game.”

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