Men's Tennis (ATP)
Safin, Serena posted popular wins

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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The recently-concluded Aussie Open did just that last week with a pair of popular titles by two of the sport's biggest draws.

Feisty Marat Safin, not the mighty Roger Federer, prevailed on the men's side, while former world No. 1 Serena Williams played like a current world No. 1 on her way to a second Melbourne title in three years.

The former top-ranked Safin capped his magnificent run Down Under by stunning the currently top-ranked Federer in the semis and overcoming big Aussie crowd favorite Lleyton Hewitt in the marquee final. Safin halted Federer's sizzling 26-match winning streak and prevented the sublime Swiss from corralling a fifth Grand Slam title in seven tries. And his victory over Hewitt kept Australia from getting its first male Aussie champ since 1976, when Mark Edmondson titled on a grass court at Kooyong.

Marat Safin
Marat Safin captured his first Australian Open title in his third trip to the final in Melbourne.
Serena headed to Melbourne seeking her first major championship since Wimbledon 2003 and she nailed it down by pasting former world No. 1 Amelie Mauresmo in the quarters, holding off surging Russian star Maria Sharapova in a compelling semifinal, and overcoming her fellow American Lindsay Davenport in an uneventful final. Serena exacted some revenge on Sharapova, who shocked the American superstar in last year's lucrative Wimbledon and WTA Championships finals.

Serena also made a little history in Melbourne, as she became only the second woman ever to come from match points down to win two different Grand Slams (the 2003 and 2005 Aussie Opens). Kim Clijsters held two match points on her in an '03 semi in Melbourne, and the powerful American saved three match points in her semifinal victory against Sharapova last week.

For Safin, who turned 25 the day he shocked Federer last week, it marked Grand Slam title number two, with his first one coming at the 2000 U.S. Open, where he tattooed the great Pete Sampras in straight sets in the final. Many thought his title in New York would be his first of many Grand Slam wins, but a seeming lack of commitment, injuries and immaturity prevented the ultra- talented Russian from hoisting major championship hardware for another four- plus years. He had since performed in a pair of Aussie Open finals, losing to Swede Thomas Johansson in 2002 and Federer last year.

Obviously, the third time was the charm for the towering Russian at this most- recent Aussie extravaganza.

For the 23-year-old Serena, Melbourne '05 marked her seventh major title. Aside from her two Aussie crowns, she also owns a French Open title, a pair of Wimbledon trophies and two U.S. Open wins.

Since beating her big sister Venus in the '03 Wimbledon final, Serena has been plagued by injuries, wrapped up in a multitude of off-the-court ventures and lost her half-sister Yetunde Price to a fatal gunshot wound, which devastated the Williams family two Septembers ago.

The previous five Slams were won by someone other than Serena, who skipped two of the events due to a knee injury which forced her out of the 2003 U.S. Open and last year's Aussie fortnight.

Serena Williams
Serena Williams claimed her seventh Grand Slam title by capturing the Aussie Open for the second time in three years.
But she looked healthy in Melbourne last month, which is good news for tennis fans worldwide, but bad news for the rest of the players on the WTA Tour. Her Down Under success has propelled Serena to a world No. 2 ranking, behind only Davenport, and don't be surprised when she becomes No. 1 again in the very near future. A healthy Serena is just too athletic and too tough for the rest of the circuit right now, with the exception of the 17-year-old Sharapova.

FYI, Serena's victory in Melbourne gave the WTA its fifth Grand Slam titlist in the last five events.

Safin's huge win currently has him atop the 2005 ATP Race and fourth in the Entry Rankings (the world rankings). I can't guarantee a future top spot in the men's rankings for the big Russian, simply because Federer is still the man to beat and has a sizeable lead on the ledger. In between Federer and Safin rests Hewitt and serve-crazy American Andy Roddick.

Federer is obviously great for the game, considering he might be the best tennis talent anyone's ever seen, but, much like his boyhood idol Sampras, he's not exactly the most charismatic of fellows. That's where a guy like Safin comes in. The Russian masher is one of those larger than life characters that needs to hover around the top of the profession for obvious reasons.

Safin is now a two-time major champion and will try for a third at the French Open in late-May/early-June. His impressive results have restored his confidence and boosted his outlook for a strong 2005.

"It's a huge confidence," Safin said after titling in Melbourne.

Serena might be "back," but she'll still have to contend with the likes of Davenport, Mauresmo, Sharapova, Svetlana Kuznetsova and (hopefully) the currently-injured Belgian stalwarts, Justine Henin-Hardenne and Clijsters, this season and perhaps in the coming seasons.

Serena will shoot for her second French Open crown in four years in a few months, and at this point she appears to be the early favorite.

FYI (again), both Safin and Serena are undefeated in 2005, with identical 7-0 records as the result of their brilliant Aussie runs.

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