AC in DC Final, to Face Murray

August 5, 2006 05:02 PM

Arnaud Clement of France celebrates during his win over Marat Safin in the semifinals of the Legg Mason Tennis Classic Saturday.© Jamie Squire/Getty Images
WASHINGTON (AP) -- 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. Both Clement and Murray will be seeking second their second title of the season.

Murray had a five-game run in the first set, too, and was broken only once in the match. He limited his unforced errors to 17, while Tursunov had 36.

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

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.

Whatever brought out the theatrics, they never caused Clement to waver.

"With him, it's not about his opponent -- it's not a problem. It's why everybody likes Marat," Clement said.

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 in his top showing at a major.

"My game is better on hard courts, when it's faster," said Clement, once ranked in the top 10 but now No. 57. "I like the hard courts."

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

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

In the first set, Clement won 11 of 12 points in one span, including a break back to 3-3 on a double-fault by Safin, who sailed the second serve 3 feet long. That also began a stretch in which Safin began having trouble in his return games, and Clement won 16 of 18 points on his serve into the tiebreaker.

In that first tiebreaker 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 tiebreaker, 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 second 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, and again when Murray hit a backhand winner to go up 6-5.

 

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