Safin wraps up the Full Monty

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Marat Safin was cautioned for dropping his shorts at the French Open in June. Yesterday the 24-year-old Russian was the toast of the capital after winning his third Paris Masters title.

Marat Safin was cautioned for dropping his shorts at the French Open in June. Yesterday the 24-year-old Russian was the toast of the capital after winning his third Paris Masters title.

It was also Safin's second consecutive Masters Series title, following his victory in Madrid a fortnight ago; something of a Full Monty.

Having finished last year ranked 66th in the world, with a defeat to Roger Federer in the Australian Open final at the start of this year, Safin will reach Houston next week as one of the favourites for the Masters Cup.

In winning his 10th Masters Series match in a row yesterday, Safin looked somewhat battle-weary. This was hardly surprising since he has carried the men's game in recent weeks in the absence of other leading players.

His previous Paris finals were against Australians, Mark Philippoussis, in 2000, and Lleyton Hewitt in 2002. Although Safin's opponent yesterday, Radek Stepanek, of the Czech Republic, is not one of the noted players on the ATP Tour, the Russian's win was particularly satisfying. He lost their only previous match in Moscow, his home city, last month.

The 63rd-ranked Stepanek is only the sixth qualifier to reach a Masters Series final. The 25-year-old from Prerov who has yet to win an ATP title, used his attacking skills and guileful drop-shots to test Safin as best he could, but could not prevent the Russian from winning, 6-3, 7-6, 6-3, after two hours 18 minutes. "I love playing here," said Safin, whose win takes him to No 4 in the world.

After Safin secured the first set after 35 minutes, and then broke for 2-1 in the second set, it seemed that Stepanek's resolve would waver, particularly as his opponent won the third game with a backhand that clipped the net cord and arced over the Czech's body.

Instead, Stepanek rummaged in his racket bag for a headband and sported it like a samurai. Whether or not this was a psychological ploy, Stepanek was suddenly inspired. He broke back to 2-2 and held two break points in the sixth game en route to the tie-break. Stepanek led 4-2 in the shoot-out, only for Safin to haul his way back and prevail, 7-5.

Stepanek displayed commendable sportsmanship by conceding an ace to Safin at 40-15 in the fifth game of the third set after the Russian had aced him on the previous two points. Safin made the decisive break for 5-3 and then saved two break points before converting his first match point.

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