Hewitt capitalizes on Safin's mistakes in semis win

Updated: March 4, 2007, 1:11 AM ET
Associated Press

LAS VEGAS -- Lleyton Hewitt is starting to become a regular in the Tennis Channel Open's championship match.

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The second-seeded Australian took advantage of 36 unforced errors by Russia's Marat Safin on Saturday night in a 7-5, 6-1 semifinal victory.

Hewitt weathered Safin's hard shots in the first set, then capitalized on the mistakes in winning the second set in 30 minutes.

"Early on, he hit some unbelievable shots," Hewitt said. "To my credit, I hung in there and served better as the match went on. I didn't feel like I did much wrong."

Hewitt improved to 25-3 in the event and is looking for his third title. He won in 2000 and 2003 when it was played in Scottsdale, Ariz., and lost to James Blake in last year's final. The Australian also lost in the 1999 final.

The world's former top-ranked player will face No. 4 Jurgen Melzer on Sunday, looking to win his third championship since January 2005. Hewitt is 25-14 in ATP Tour title matches.

"[Melzer] is a very underrated player," Hewitt said. "It doesn't surprise me that he got through that part of the draw. He played well against a lot of top ranked guys in the past."

Hewitt said he struggled in his first two matches of the event, worrying about a hamstring injury sustained two months ago in the Davis Cup. His confidence, however, has grown the past two nights.

He had 10 aces Friday night in a convincing 6-3, 6-2 quarterfinal victory over Feliciano Lopez and looked sharp in topping a quality opponent in Safin. Both Safin and Hewitt have won two career majors.

"I was more worried about my body and how it was going to react in the first two matches," Hewitt said. "I was focused more on my body than my game."

The night could have been different for Safin, the tournament's No. 3 seed. He led in the first set, but was broken four times and let the errors get the best of him. Hewitt only had nine winner, but Safin keep giving points away.

"I had my chances," Safin said. "I was just playing too fast and made a lot of mistakes. It just didn't go my way."

Melzer, of Austria, ended Evgeny Korolev's eventful run in the tournament, beating the unseeded Russian 6-7 (4), 6-2, 7-6 (4).

Not only was Korolev the lone unseeded semifinalist, he was the only player among the final four to lose a round-robin match (to Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina).

But Korolev first stood out when he defeated top-seeded defending champion James Blake 6-2, 6-4, in his opening-round match Tuesday.

Korolev initially was declared the round-robin group winner based on his victory over Blake, but the ATP Tour reversed that decision on Thursday before switching back to Korolev on Friday.

Korolev came back to take a 5-3 lead in the third set before Melzer rallied to tie it at 5-5. After that, Melzer never trailed. He took a 6-5 lead before Korolev knotted the score at 6. Melzer then took a 4-1 lead in the tiebreaker, which he won 7-4.

"He had been serving extremely well in the first tiebreaker," Melzer said. "I wanted to put pressure on him in his first ATP semifinals. In the third set, I was thinking that he had to win it; I'm not going to give it to you. That was the difference."

In doubles, the ATP's No. 1 team of Bob and Mike Bryan advanced to the final by defeating Ramon Delgado of Paraguay and Gustavo Kuerten of Brazil 6-4, 6-1. They will face the winner of Saturday night's semifinal between James Auckland/Ashley Fisher and Jonathan Erlich/Andy Ram.

The Bryan twins, who are the defending event champions, are 20-4 at the Open, where they have won their last 11 matches. They are currently the holders of five Grand Slam titles and 34 career crowns.

"If we play like we did yesterday and today, just moving around a lot and jumping around a lot we'll do fine," Mike Bryan said. "We were really sharp. We take that kind of style into tomorrow."

In the women's event, Mirage Cup at the Tennis Channel Open, top-seeded Akiko Morigami of Japan reached the final by defeating No. 7 Jarmila Gajdosova of Slovakia 7-5, 6-1. Morigami will face unseeded Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark, a 6-0, 5-7, 6-1 winner over No. 4 Julia Vakulenko of Ukraine.


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press