Martin hangs on for semi-final slot

This time, there was no victory lap, no high-fives for the fans, no memorable comeback for Todd Martin.

This time, there was no victory lap, no high-fives for the fans, no memorable comeback for Todd Martin.

This time, the exhilaration of his epic 4-hour, 17-minute victory two nights earlier was replaced by a sense of relief Thursday.

That's because just as Martin had overcome a two-set deficit to defeat Carlos Moya, it seemed he would let the same margin get away against Thomas Johansson.

Martin struggled mightily to prevent that from happening, finally surviving 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 7-5 to advance to the semifinals at the U.S. Open.

After winning the first two sets, Martin's game seemed to vanish all at once. It looked like he ran out of gas; his legs seemed wooden, his spirit broken.

"He made some great plays on my serve," Martin said. "I didn't do well on my volley. I lost so much movement and he picked up so much movement."

Johansson won the third set comfortably and had Martin back on his heels with an early break in the fourth. "Moving the ball, seeing the ball was so difficult," Martin said.

And then, just as suddenly as his energy seemed to disappear, it returned. Down a break, he found an opening and drew even. Then he broke Johansson again to win the match.

"I made a couple of good plays at crucial times in the fourth set that raised my energy," Martin said. "I made up my mind to let him see me more, coming to the net more, not trying to make things so pretty, trying to scrap some ugly points, too. That's part of the game, part of the reason why I've been able to do well and an important decision to make tonight."

The victory put Martin in Saturday's semifinals against No. 6 Marat Safin, who advanced with a 7-5, 4-6, 7-6 (5), 6-3 victory over No. 14 Nicolas Kiefer.

Safin boomed serves of up to 131 mph with 16 aces against Kiefer and played well enough to convince the German he can win the Open.

"I think so because the way he plays," Kiefer said. "I think his confidence is getting much bigger and bigger. I think he has a good chance."

Safin, famous for smashing rackets, has kept his well-documented temper under wraps during the Open and the equipment in his bag remains intact. Is he turning mellow?

"If you can pay all my fines, it's OK, I can break many," he said. "You know how much I paid already this year? Close to $7,000, or even $10,000. For $10,000, you know what I can do? You don't want to know what I can do with $10,000."

Winning the Open is worth much more than that and the 20-year-old Safin came into the season's final Grand Slam with that in mind.

Safin knows it won't get easier for him against Martin, the Open's marathon man. They have never met before.

"With Todd, it's a lot of headache because he's a big serve, no rhythm at all," the Russian said. "He plays very fast, very good volley. He's a very talented guy. He can play till 12 in the morning. I can't do it. He's a big fighter, has a good serve. It's difficult to play against him."

Martin noted Safin's huge serve.

"I'd like to walk off without holes in me," he said. "He hits the ball so hard."

In Saturday's other men's semi, Pete Sampras will play Lleyton Hewitt. Both advanced with victories Wednesday, Sampras in four sets over Richard Krajicek and Hewitt in three against Arnaud Clement.

On Friday, the women take center stage with Venus Williams and Martina Hingis resuming an old rivalry in one semifinal and Lindsay Davenport facing newcomer Elena Dementieva in the other.

Hingis and Williams have been down this road before, most recently at Wimbledon where Venus won a three-set quarterfinal en route to her first Grand Slam title. Friday's meeting is a rematch of the 1999 women's semi when Hingis beat Williams in three sets before losing to Venus' sister, Serena, in the finals.

It was Serena who stirred things up at the Open after losing to Davenport in the quarters. That ended chances for an all-Williams final between the sisters.

"I'm sure a lot of people never want to see an all-Williams final, because everyone doesn't really like us," Serena said. "That's just the way it is. Not everyone can like you. It's just part of life."

Davenport, encouraged by Hingis, ended a five-match losing streak against Serena, who knocked her out of the Open a year ago when she was the defending champion.

"There's no revenge," she said. "I mean I'm going to lose to her again. I'm going to beat her again. That's the way it goes."

Hingis holds a 9-6 edge against Williams, who has won three of their last four meetings including the quarterfinals at Wimbledon.

While Hingis, Davenport and Williams are Grand Slam regulars, Dementieva is a newcomer. She beat No. 7 Conchita Martinez and No. 10 Anke Huber to reach her first Slam semifinal. Dementieva is excited about the opportunity against Davenport, who won this event two years ago.

"I'm not nervous," Dementieva, 18, said. "Why not? I play very well this week. I work very hard. Why not?"

Dementieva trained for a while with Safin and was coached by his mother. The men's semifinalist was asked if they had played together.

"Sometimes," he said. "She was bad."

Since then, she's gotten very good. And so has he.

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