MELBOURNE, Australia – Marat Safin (search) just needed a little time to get warmed up against Lleyton Hewitt (search) in the Australian Open final. The 25-year-old Russian overcame a terrible start to win his second Grand Slam title, beating Hewitt 1-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 on Sunday night to help make up for two finals losses in his last three appearances at Melbourne Park (search).
Safin also emphatically ended Hewitt's bid to become the first Australian champion since Mark Edmondson won the 1976 tournament at Kooyong.
"You are such a fighter, an amazing talent that God gave you to fight to the end," Safin said to Hewitt during the trophy presentation. The Russian also thanked the crowd — "even though 90 percent of you were for Hewitt."
The fourth-seeded Safin, also the 2000 U.S. Open winner, ended top-ranked Roger Federer's 26-match winning streak in the semifinals Thursday before pushing aside the pesky Hewitt in the first night men's championship match in Grand Slam history.
"I would like to congratulate Marat. You are one of the best players in the world," said Hewitt, who will jump to No. 2 in the next world rankings. "You knocked off the guy who's nearly been impossible. You thoroughly deserve it."
Hewitt seemed at the top of his game early in the match, zipping from sideline to sideline while committing only one unforced error in the 23-minute first set.
But the third-seeded Australian started slipping while serving at 1-2 in the second set. At 15-40, Safin rammed a forehand down the line to cash in his first break-point opportunity.
Hewitt fended off one set point serving at 2-5, but Safin — still looking nervous — leveled the match on a forehand winner down the line off a weak service return.
With fist pumps and shouts of "Come on! Come on!" Hewitt saved two break points in the first game of the third set as tensions rose. Hewitt screamed "No way!" at Portuguese umpire Carlos Ramos in the next game after an overrule on Safin's shot that Hewitt thought was long but TV replays showed was on the line.
Safin had his own fist pump and shout of "Vamos!" — Spanish for "Let's go!" — after one winner, but Hewitt broke when he guessed right on Safin's volley and sent a backhand winner down the line. Safin fired a forehand long on the next point.
Safin, notorious for breaking rackets, spiked another one, but continued to play with it. He got his thighs massaged at the changeover after Hewitt held for a 3-0 lead, then complained to Ramos in Spanish about another close call in the next game.
Hewitt was called for a foot fault on his first serve at 4-2, 30-40. He won the point after a long rally, then was given a code violation for unsportsmanlike conduct for screaming and pointing his finger at the line judge responsible for the call. Safin, who got back on serve on his third break point on a backhand winner down the line, complained again to Ramos at the changeover.
Hewitt foot-faulted again at 15-30 in his next service game and double-faulted at 30-40 to hand Safin a 5-4 lead.
After wasting one set point on a backhand he dumped into the net, Safin finished it off when Hewitt hit a backhand crosscourt just wide. This time it was Hewitt who sought a massage on the thigh muscles that have given him trouble all tournament.
Safin, suddenly looking confident, rallied from 40-15 deficit as Hewitt served in the first game of the fourth set, finishing off the break with an overhead winner and a backhand crosscourt pass to stretch his streak to seven straight games.
It was the only break Safin needed, as he yielded only three points in his five service games in the set. When Hewitt hit a lunging forehand out at match point, Safin pumped his fist one last time in celebration.
On Saturday in the women's final, seventh-seeded Venus Williams beat top-ranked Lindsay Davenport 2-6, 6-3, 6-0.
In the mixed doubles final Sunday, Australia's Scott Draper and Samantha Stosur beat Kevin Ullyett of Zimbabwe and Liezel Huber of South Africa 6-2, 2-6, 7-6 (6).
In the junior finals, second-seeded American Donald Young beat top-seeded Kim Sun-yong of South Korea 6-2, 6-4, and top-seeded Victoria Azarenka of Belarus defeated 12th-seeded Agnes Szavay of Hungary 6-2, 6-2. With the victory, the 15-year-old Young become the youngest player ever to top the junior rankings.