Clement to face Murray in Legg Mason final

Updated: August 5, 2006, 10:22 PM ET
Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- Marat Safin was at his umpire-berating, racket-spiking, error-spraying worst Saturday, and Arnaud Clement took full advantage.

Happy to be on hard courts, Clement came back from a deficit in each set to beat Safin 7-6 (5), 7-6 (4) and reach the final in the Legg Mason Tennis Classic.

It was a second consecutive victory over a past U.S. Open champion for the 11th-seeded Frenchman, who upset Lleyton Hewitt in the quarterfinals.

Clement's opponent in Sunday's final will be No. 8 Andy Murray of Britain, who won the last five games to eliminate No. 7 Dmitry Tursunov of Russia 6-2, 7-5. Clement and Murray each will be seeking a second title of the season.

Murray -- at his first tournament with coach Brad Gilbert -- had a five-game run in the first set, too, and was broken only once Saturday.

"If I play like I did tonight, I've got a good chance of winning" the title, said Murray, who limited his unforced errors to 17, while Tursunov had 36.

Safin finished with 40 unforced errors -- 18 more than Clement.

Sometimes, Clement said, "against Marat, you have no chance: He can break, he can serve, he can do everything. But sometimes, and I know it, he can make a few mistakes in a row, and I know I just have to be focused."

As often happens with Safin, he appeared distracted at times, including an argument with chair umpire Jake Garner about whether the Russian took too long to decide whether to challenge a call midway through the first set.

"His job is not to interrupt our game by making some decisions and some comments," Safin said later. "He should just do his job."

Safin received a warning for smacking a ball in anger after dropping a point in the second set, and he later reared back and cracked his racket on the court after missing a forehand.

"It's just kind of disappointing for me, this kind of match that slipped away," said Safin, who led 3-1 in the first set and 4-2 in the second. "I had my chances. I should have won in two sets, 6-3, 6-4."

He put some blame on playing in the afternoon, instead of at night, when his first four matches here were held. Safin said he got used to a routine of practicing in the morning, sleeping during the day, then playing under the lights.

Clement's lone title of 2006 came on hard courts in February at Marseille, France, when he beat French Open champion Rafael Nadal along the way. But Clement went 5-9 after that before reeling off four wins in a row at this tuneup for the U.S. Open, which starts Aug. 28.

He's had success on hard courts in the past, reaching the final of the 2001 Australian Open.

"My game is better on hard courts, when it's faster," said Clement, who beat Murray at last year's U.S. Open in five sets, their only previous meeting.

Safin won the 2000 U.S. Open and the 2005 Australian Open, and used to be No. 1. But a series of injuries, including a bad left knee that kept him off the tour from last August until February, dropped his ranking to 92nd.

Still, he looked good here in the early rounds, and had won five tiebreakers in a row before faltering in both against Clement.

In the first, Safin went up 4-2, but eventually handed over Clement's fourth set point by double-faulting, then bowed his head. On the next point, Safin lunged for a forehand volley that hit the net to end the set.

In the second, Safin put an easy backhand into the net to fall behind 5-3, put a backhand return in the net on a 97 mph serve to make it 6-4, then missed a backhand to end the match after 2 hours, 2 minutes.

In the later semifinal, Tursunov saved two break points in the opening game for a 1-0 lead, and then Murray took control, winning eight of the next nine points to start the streak that carried him to a 5-1 advantage.

Tursunov used three winners to break Murray for a 4-2 lead in the second set, then held for 5-2. But he wouldn't win another game, getting broken when he served for the set at 5-3 -- slipping as he tried to get to a backhand passing winner on a 20-stroke exchange on break point -- and again when Murray hit a backhand winner to go up 6-5.

For Murray, a career-best 35th in the rankings, it was his 13th victory in his last 16 matches. He won his first tour title on hard courts at San Jose, Calif., in February, defeating Andy Roddick and Hewitt en route.

"I'll be a little more relaxed this time," the 19-year-old Scot said. "I have a bit more experience than I did then, and now I know I can win a tournament."

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press