Safin crushes Nalbandian for fourth Masters win

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The Independent Online

Marat Safin barged his way past Britain's Tim Henman into sixth place in the race to qualify for next month's Masters Cup in Houston by overpowering David Nalbandian, of Argentina, 6-2, 6-4, 6-3, in the Madrid Masters final yesterday.

Marat Safin barged his way past Britain's Tim Henman into sixth place in the race to qualify for next month's Masters Cup in Houston by overpowering David Nalbandian, of Argentina, 6-2, 6-4, 6-3, in the Madrid Masters final yesterday.

Henman, meanwhile, was in Basle, practising in the hope of increasing his points total there this week. Henman had a blood test after being overtaken by exhaustion here in Madrid where, as No 1 seed, he lost in the third round. The test showed a magnesium deficiency, for which Henman will take supplements for a month.

Few would disagree that the 24-year-old Safin has the talent and athleticism to be a fixture around the top of the game, if not above the magnificent Roger Federer, the world No 1. Injuries have hampered Safin, though perhaps not as much as his inability to hold his concentration long enough to dominate on a regular basis.

His demolition of Pete Sampras in the 2000 US Open final promised a spectacular career that so far he has he has been unable to sustain. He was runner-up to Thomas Johansson at the 2002 Australian Open and lost a second Melbourne final to Federer at the start of this year.

A succession of coaches have attempted to keep Safin on track since he left his Spanish mentor, Rafael Mensua, his latest advisor being Peter Lundgren of Sweden, the man who guided Federer to his first Wimbledon title in 2003.

"The difference between Safin and Federer is that Safin is more open," Lundgren said. "If I tell him something, he lets me know right away if he likes it or not. Federer listened, thought about it by himself, then told you yes or no." Asked about Lungren's part in his resurgence, Safin said: "[It is] the most important part. He tries to explain why, how, and what you have to do to reach your goal."

Since he started working with Lundgren last May, Safin has won last month's Beijing tournament, which added to his confidence en route to the Rockodromo here, where he eliminated Andre Agassi in two sets on Saturday and outplayed Nalbandian, the 2002 Wimbledon finalist, yesterday. It was Safin's fourth triumph in a Masters Series event, and the first since his second success in Paris in 2002.

The 22-year-old Nalbandian managed to recover a break of serve after losing the opening two games of the first set. The attacking ground-stroker then led 3-1 in the second set, only for Safin to level to 3-3 and break again in the 10th game.

Safin won the opening three games of the third set, after which Nalbandian was barely hanging on. The Argentine saved a match point on his own serve at 5-2 before Safin served out to love after an hour and 52 minutes.

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