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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Safin on a Roll, Sampras Rallies

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LISBON, Portugal — Marat Safin outbattled Australian Lleyton Hewitt 6-4, 6-4 in the $3.7 million ATP Masters Cup on Wednesday and could now rewrite the tennis record books.

The round robin victory means that if the 20-year-old Russian beats Pete Sampras in his final red group match, he will become the youngest year-end No. 1 since the rankings began in 1973.

But Friday's match against Sampras will be academic if Gustavo Kuerten loses against Magnus Norman in a green group match on Thursday.

The Brazilian is the only player left with a chance of stopping Safin.

Sampras had earlier kept alive his chances of successfully defending the season-ending event with a solid 7-6, 7-5 victory over Alex Corretja.

The American needed to win following his defeat at the hands of Hewitt on Tuesday.

Russian Yevgeny Kafelnikov started the day off by coming from a set and a break down to beat Swede Magnus Norman 4-6, 7-5, 6-1 in a baseline battle. (See story, Page 19.)

Hitting out with much more power and poise than in his first match Tuesday, Safin broke Hewitt for 5-4 in the opening set before serving out comfortably.

Although he was broken by the tenacious Australian in the second set, Safin broke Hewitt twice and sealed the win with an ace after just 82 minutes.

"I felt good out there, I was hitting the ball well," Safin said afterward.

But he refused to be drawn on the ranking situation.

"I don't worry about that — I don't think about it. If you play well then the numbers come … both numbers — money and rankings," he said.

Sampras, a five-time winner of this title, also started in much more confident form than he had in his opening match.

Looking the stronger as the match wore on, he eventually wore Corretja down and closed out the match after two hours and a minute by thumping a forehand winner down the line.

"I would have been happy with anything after the way I started yesterday," he said afterwards. "But actually I played a good match.

"Alex doesn't miss much and he forced me to play really well so I am pleased with that.

"I knew he wouldn't miss a ball on match point so I really had to go for that forehand."