Sampras swept aside by the power of Safin

Russian secures his first Grand Slam title as former champion is beaten in straight sets in less than two hours

If you are going to win your first grand slam title, do it in style. Pete Sampras set the trend with the first of his record 13 here at the United States Open 10 years ago, and Russia's Marat Safin followed suit when he dismantled the great champion, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3, after only an hour and 38 minutes.

If you are going to win your first grand slam title, do it in style. Pete Sampras set the trend with the first of his record 13 here at the United States Open 10 years ago, and Russia's Marat Safin followed suit when he dismantled the great champion, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3, after only an hour and 38 minutes.

Safin, competing in his first major final at the age of 20, had teased his hosts by saying that few people around the grounds knew who he was or could pronounce his name correctly. "I've been Safin, Safan and Safun," he said with a smile. It was certainly "fun" last evening.

It was astonishing to think that this was the same young man who had been fined for not trying after losing to the South African Grant Stafford in straight sets in the first rounds of the Australian Open in January.

Against Sampras yesterday he used every ounce of effort he could muster from his 6ft 4in frame to make one of the boldest arrivals in the big time seen for years.

It was the first time a Russian had reached the US Open final and Safin wowed the crowds with his shots and his personality. Moreover, he did not break a single racket.

Safin took the opening set after 31 minutes, breaking Sampras for only the fifth time in the tournament in the seventh game. Sampras, who started the match with an ace and three service winners, found himself under pressure at 3-3. Safin passed him with a forehand return for 15-40. Sampras served away the first break point, but was passed again by Safin's confident forehand return on the second opportunity.

Sampras's supporters in the 23,000 crowd were dismayed to see the trainer, Doug Spreen, called to his chair during the change-over at 4-5. They were relieved when Sampras removed his right shoe and sock rather than direct the trainer to his left shin, which troubled him throughout Wimbledon.

"Pete developed a callus in his match with [Lleyton] Hewitt, and we put a dressing on it," Spreen said. "He found the dressing uncomfortable, so I removed it, cleaned up the skin, and applied some fresh ointment."

While this was taking place, Safin composed himself before serving for the set. He did so without a sign of nerves, dropping only one point (hitting a forehand long) and delivering a strong second serve on set point, which Sampras returned over the baseline.

Safin was two sets ahead on the hour, demonstrating some audacious touch play along with his customary power, and, as with the first set, breaking Sampras in the seventh game. This time, Sampras double-faulted to 15-15, then saw his backhand volley dispatched almost contemptuously by Safin, who swept a backhand pass across the court.

To add to his misery, Sampras, renowned for his mental fortitude on the big points, double-faulted to lose the set.

The harder he tried, the less he achieved. His inability to execute shots that are usually meat and drink to him almost exaggerated his opponent's growing authority. And when he was broken again in the second game of the third set, there was a droop of his shoulders.

So comprehensive was Safin's control of the match that Sampras did not catch sight of his first break points until the Russian was serving for the title at 5-3. The American created two opportunities. Safin erased the first with a forehand drive volley and the second with a smash so emphatic that Sampras's attempted response was to steer a forehand over the baseline.

Safin needed only one match point to complete his task, whisking a backhand cross-court pass for a winner after Sampras returned a second serve.

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