Baghdatis beats Safin in 5 sets

MELBOURNE, Australia &

Marcos Baghdatis needed five sets to defeat Marat Safin 6-4, 6-4, 2-6, 3-6, 6-2 today at the Australian Open, evoking memories of his run to the 2006 final.

The marquee matchup of the night was packed with drama &

long rallies, seemingly impossible winners and shifts in momentum.

Baghdatis appeared to be on his way to a straight-sets victory, looked down and out, then pulled himself together to set up a third-round meeting with another former No. 1, Lleyton Hewitt.

Earlier, Venus Williams overcame a lethargic outing, committing 44 unforced errors and dropping her serve four times in a row, to beat Camille Pin 7-5, 6-4, while top-seeded Roger Federer was impressive again in ending friend Fabrice Santoro's record 62nd Grand Slam tournament 6-1, 6-2, 6-0.

The mercurial Safin, the 2005 champion who has slipped to No. 56 because of a rash of injuries, tossed his racket twice in frustration while falling behind, then broke it after dropping serve early in the fifth set.

Both players took tumbles on the court, with Safin making a lunging layout to pick off a passing shot for a winner and Baghdatis awkwardly doing the splits when he slipped on the dead run.

The 15th-seeded Baghdatis constantly rallied two years ago, feeding off the energy from vocal fans from Melbourne's large Greek community, before he lost the final to Roger Federer.

His beard and ponytail are gone, but the support was there again, and Baghdatis fed off it.

Sharp in taking the first two sets, Baghdatis' game slipped at the same time Safin picked up his performance. The Russian broke Baghdatis early in the third and fourth sets, then fended off triple break point while serving at 5-3 to hold with his 11th ace to even the match.

Baghdatis pulled ahead 3-0 in the fifth set and never yielded the advantage despite constant pressure from Safin. He finished off the victory in — hours, 13 minutes by breaking Safin for the fifth time when a forehand went long on match point.

The rowdy fans included a group of young men wearing white face masks and sunglasses who chanted "pepper spray" &

a reference to an incident two nights earlier when police used pepper spray to subdue three spectators during a match between Fernando Gonzalez of Chile and Konstantinos Economidis of Greece.

The Federer-Santoro match went by so quickly that Santoro asked him to wait a moment on match point, pointing to the scoreboard and smiling. The Swiss star got a chuckle out of it, too, then got in a serve-and-volley winner.

"It was a tough match for me," Santoro said. "It was not easy to have fun, but I tried to have some."

Despite the rout, Santoro was ready to take on Federer again.

"Because it's so beautiful, what he's doing," said the 35-year-old Frenchman, who had only four unforced errors. "At my age, you can be able to play your match and appreciate your opponent, too.

"Today, I feel like he's coming from somewhere else. I served quite good. I was moving well. I was fit physically. I was hitting the ball well. And I won three games."

Federer won the last 10 games, ended it with a serve-and-volley as Santoro edged in almost to the service box. He clambered over the net to embrace the Frenchman.

Dictating play, Federer ended up with 53 winners and 18 unforced errors.

"Obviously I always enjoy the match against Fabrice," said Federer, chasing his third consecutive Australian Open title and his 13th major. "First time I played him, he totally dismantled me. Showed I had a lot of things to work on.

"Today I was in great shape, could play aggressive. We always have great rallies together, because of his playing style ... he does a great job of making you doubt. It's always a tricky match against him. But you know it's going to be fun. And this is what it's supposed to be, this game."

Williams looked stiff, sluggish and out of sorts, trudging back to the baseline in growing bewilderment as she sprayed balls all over the court. Clearly trying to win points quickly, she ventured to the net 39 times and often went for high-risk winners.

Pin pulled ahead 5-4 in the first set, only to see the American pull herself together long enough to take the last three games. Williams also ran off the last four games of the second set after falling behind 2-4.

"She's a real fighter ... really feisty," Williams said. She now plays No. 31 Sania Mirza of India, who ousted Timea Bacsinszky.

Second-ranked Svetlana Kuznetsova, a former U.S. Open champion, rallied from 5-2 down in the first set to win in straight sets against Tsvetana Pironkova. Other seeded players advancing were No. 4 Ana Ivanovic, No. 6 Anna Chakvetadze, No. 9 Daniela Hantuchova and No. 14 Nadia Petrova.

Joining Federer in the third round were No. — Novak Djokovic, No. 5 David Ferrer, No. 7 Fernando Gonzalez, No. 10 David Nalbandian, No. 12 James Blake, No. 13 Tomas Berdych and former No. 1-ranked Juan Carlos Ferrero.

Nalbandian, who beat Federer and second-ranked Rafael Nadal to win consecutive tournaments in Paris and Madrid last October, had a 4-6, 7-5, 6-4, 6-1 win over Australian Peter Luczak.

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