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Since 1st March, 1999
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Safin halts Federer run
- Birthday boy wins epic five-set semi-final

Melbourne: Russian Marat Safin squandered six match-points before bringing world No. 1 Roger Federer's Grand Slam streak to a halt with a heart-stopping 5-7, 6-4, 5-7, 7-6 (8-6), 9-7 Australian Open semi-final win on Thursday night.

Federer, who not lost a match since the Athens Olympics in August, needed treatment for back problems during the four-hour, 28-minute match which he could have won in the fourth set tie-break had he converted a match-point on his serve.

Safin, runner-up in two of the last three Australian Opens including last year when Federer beat him, thus celebrated his 25th birthday in grand style. He will play second seed Andy Roddick or No. 3 Lleyton Hewitt in Sunday's final.

Up two sets to one, Federer led 6-5 in the fourth-set tie-break only for Safin to snatch it 8-6 before breaking in the sixth game of the decider on his way to a 5-2 lead.

For the first time in the tournament, Federer was pushed to the limit as Safin, runner-up at Melbourne Park in 2002 and 2004, matched him both on serve and from the baseline.

A packed Rod Laver Arena were treated to a real spectacle with both players crunching winners from every angle, but Federer snatched the opening set thanks to one break in the 12th game when Safin missed a backhand.

Federer had not dropped a set in his five matches to the semi-finals, but if he thought Safin would lie down, he was sorely mistaken. The Russian stepped up his game, breaking in the third game on his way to levelling the match.

Having been pegged back from 3-0 to 3-3 in the third, a missed forehand from Safin handed Federer the vital break in the 12th game. But the first three sets were just a prelude to an incredible finale.

As tension mounted in the fourth set, Safin looked down and out when Federer moved to a 6-5 lead on his own serve in the fourth-set tie-break only to play a wondrous lob.

Safin won the next two points to level once more and then led 5-2 in the decider before Federer saved two match-points at 3-5 and another at 4-5 to level.

The Swiss then saved three more but Safin finally clinched victory with a forehand winner. Safin said he almost buckled under the pressure. 'You have to understand I was not playing against just a simple player, it was the number one player in the world, Roger,' a relieved Safin told newsmen. 'For some reason I found the power to fight, to wait for my opportunities and eventually they came.'

'It's too much pressure even when you have a match-point because you really have to build a point to win it,' he said. 'Normally he toys with all the other players with all respect to everybody. It's incredible what type of game he can play,' Safin said.

On Wednesday, Hewitt gave Australia's national day celebrations a giant lift when he beat David Nalbandian in a four-hour quarter final.

Hewitt drew on all his reserves of stamina and courage to beat the Argentine 6-3, 6-2, 1-6, 3-6, 10-8 and advance to a semi-final showdown with Roddick.

Russian Nikolay Davydenko was forced to retire from his match with second seed Roddick because of breathing problems. The American was leading 6-3, 7-5, 4-1.

Bhupathi-Woodbridge out

Third seeds Mahesh Bhupathi and Todd Woodbridge bowed out of the men's doubles when on Wednesday, losing 6-7 (3-7), 3-6 to fifth seeds Wayne Black and Kevin Ullyett of Zimbawe in the quarter finals.

In another quarter final, the unseeded pair of Jurgen Melzer (Austria) and Alexander Waske (Germany) beat Tomas Berdych of Czech Republic and Andrei Pavel of Romania 7-6 (7-3), 7-6 (10-8).


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