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Johansson tops Safin for trophy

Posted: Sunday, January 27, 2002

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Thomas Johansson broke down Marat Safin's power game with brilliant shot making of his own to win the Australian Open championship 3-6, 6-4, 6-4, 7-6 (4) Sunday.

Johansson won his first major title and spoiled Safin's 22nd birthday, making few mistakes after losing serve on the first game of the match to give the Russian the only service break he needed to take the set.

The 16th-seeded Johansson needed 25 Grand Slam tournaments to go beyond the quarterfinals. But in his first major final, he pushed the 2000 U.S. Open champion around with heavy serves and combinations of top spins, slices, flat drives and lethal drop shots.

Double faults hurt the ninth-seeded Safin in the service breaks that cost him the second and third sets.

In the second, Johansson reached deuce on a drop and lob combination. Four points later, after a double fault, Safin hit a backhand into the net and the Johansson had a break for 2-1.

In the third, Johansson started the seventh game with a drive and drop-shot combination, and gained a break for 4-3 when Safin double faulted on the last point.

In six other games in the match, Safin had to save break points to hold.

Johansson started the fourth set with a break on errors by Safin, and had a break point for 3-0. But Safin held and then broke for 2-2 with a backhand winner down the line.

In the final tiebreaker, Johansson reached 4-0 with a backhand crosscourt passing shot that left Safin sprawling. A deep serve return that forced an error made it 5-0.

At 6-1, Safin saved three match points with a forehand winner, an unreturnable serve and a miss by Johansson.

Then he drew Johansson in with a drop shot and lobbed over him -- but the lob went just long, leaving the Swede to collect the $520,000 winner's check.

Unlike in the women's final Saturday, when defending champion Jennifer Capriati labored in 95-degree heat to overcome Martina Hingis, the two men played under generally gray skies with temperatures no higher than 81. Both served at up to 130 mph, with Johansson winning the battle of aces 16-13.

A lustily cheering band of blue-and-yellow-clad Swedes greeted most of Johansson's aces with a chant ending in ''We like it!'' Johansson became the first Swede to win a Grand Slam title since Stefan Edberg took the U.S. Open in 1992.

Both players had to come back after trailing 2-1 in sets in their semifinal matches.

After needing only 28 minutes in his quarterfinal when Wayne Ferreira pulled out with an abdominal strain, Safin rebounded after a 50-minute rain delay for a 6-7 (5), 7-6 (4), 3-6, 6-0, 6-2 over seventh-seeded Tommy Haas. He had beaten Pete Sampras in the fourth round.

Johansson beat No. 26 Jiri Novak 7-6 (5), 0-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.

Johansson's best previous Grand Slam results were reaching the U.S. Open quarterfinals in 1998 and 2000.

Safin, who also beat Sampras for the 2000 U.S. Open title, had back problems in early 2001 but reached the quarterfinals at Wimbledon and the semifinals at the U.S. Open, where he lost to Sampras. At Wimbledon, he lost to eventual champion Goran Ivanisevic.



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