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  Wednesday, 5 September, 2001, 19:25 GMT 20:25 UK
Safin sees off Zabaleta
Defending US Open champion Marat Safin
The Russian Marat Safin returns in defence of title
M Safin (Rus) bt M Zabaleta (Arg) 6-4 6-4 6-2

Defending US Open champion Marat Safin easily disposed of Argentine Mariano Zabaleta in a scrappy match to reach the semi-finals in just under two hours.

Safin, who is the first men's player to reach the semi-finals, will meet the winner of the eagerly awaited clash between Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi.

"It's a big honour for me to play against (either of) them," said Safin afterwards, who beat Sampras in three sets in last year's Open final.

"It should be a very classical match. Everybody should watch that match and learn how to play."

Zabaleta had made a mockery of his ranking outside the world's top 100 at Flushing Meadows, but the quarter-final stage proved a round too far.


It was very difficult conditions to play here
Marat Safin

The Argentine had his chances - he broke Safin's serve in the second set and had a break point in the fourth game of the third set - but he was unable to take them.

The 21-year-old Russian, who is named after the French revolutionary Jean-Paul Marat, showed no such hesitation and triumphed in straight sets.

Zabaleta, who had been broken only three times in four US Open matches, was broken three times in the first set by Safin.

Windy conditions

Zabaleta did manage to break Safin's serve in the second set's fourth game.

But the Russian, who had already broken the Argentine's serve in the third game of that set, immediately broke back.

Safin, in the third set, made the decisive breakthrough in the fifth game, when he recovered from 0-30 on Zabaleta's service game to break the Argentine's serve.

Mariano Zabaleta of Argentina
Zabaleta plunges out of the US Open

Then the Russian, who at times during the game was disturbed by the windy conditions, broke the Argentine's serve in the seventh game.

"It was very difficult conditions to play here as it was windy," said Safin.

In an untidy match the defending champion made 33 unforced errors, three less than Zabaleta.

"It was not a nice match, but we both tried hard," said Safin.

"I'm happy to be in the semi-finals."

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Defending champion Marat Safin
"The way I've come back has been unbelievable"
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