Born-again Safin overpowers bad-tempered Canas on way to final

Tennis, said Marat Safin, "is dying slowly". The 24-year-old Russian was exaggerating. None the less, his comment, designed to provoke action by the governing bodies and his fellow players to restructure the calendar before the sport implodes, was timed as well as his backhand drives.

The dynamic Safin will today attempt to win the Paris Masters title for a third time and his second Masters Series event in a fortnight. Having powered groundstrokes down the lines against Lleyton Hewitt, the Australian second seed, in their quarter-final on Friday - a contest pitting Skippy against Thumper - Safin delivered more of the same in his semi-final yesterday against Guillermo Canas, of Argentina.

The sixth-seeded Safin defeated Canas, the 13th seed, 6-2 7-6, and will play a qualifier, either Max Mirnyi of Belarus or the Czech Radek Stepanek, in the final.

Safin's renaissance after ending last year ranked 77th in the world and then losing to Roger Federer in the Australian Open final has sustained interest in the game in recent months in the absence of some of the foremost players, who are either injured or resting between engagements. Canas, who twisted his left ankle during his quarter-finalmay have imagined that the court was evening the odds yesterday when Safin collapsed after damaging his right ankle four minutes into the match.

Safin resumed after treatment and before long was back in the rhythm of cracking groundstrokes with apparent ease, his two-handed backhand a masterpiece of timing and confidence without the showboating jump that used to precede the shot.

He broke in the fourth and eighth games to take the opening set, prompting Canas to break a racket in frustration. The Argentinian broke for 2-1 in the second set, and although broken back to love for 4-4 after Safin executed a stunning, spinning stop-volley, continued to duel through some breathtaking rallies.

The second-set tie-break provided a dramatic finale as the players exchanged mini-breaks on the third and fifth points before Safin drove a backhand down the line for 4-2 and then held for 5-3. After the next point, Canas treated the 14,000 spectators to a brief cabaret of face-clasping while disputing a call. Safin subsequently double-faulted to 5-4.

At 5-5, the umpire, Romano Grillotti, overruled a call against Safin. After more Canas histrionics, the point was replayed and the Argentinian lost it, hitting a backhand long. Safin converted his first match- point with a low backhand volley for 7-6. Canas congratulated Safin, but ignored the umpire's proffered hand. As Safin said: "It's a great sport."

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