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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Sampras Downs Safin, Makes Final

ReutersSafin falling as he tries to make a shot during the third set against Sampras, who won the match in straight sets Saturday.
NEW YORK -- His stomach churning, Pete Sampras reached into the reservoir of talent that made him the all-time Grand Slam record holder to beat defending champion Marat Safin in Saturday's semifinals of the U.S. Open.

The 6-3, 7-6 (7-5), 6-3 victory put the 10th-seeded Sampras in Sunday's final, seeking a 14th Slam title against No. 4 Lleyton Hewitt. Earlier Saturday, Hewitt routed No. 7 Yevgeny Kafelnikov 6-1, 6-2, 6-1 in the most one-sided semifinal in U.S. Open men's history.

Sampras was flawless in the first set, punctuating it with a gorgeous overhead backhand that was among the best shots of the match.

But Safin, seeded third, was not going away. He raised his level, and it was obvious that Sampras was struggling. He called for trainer Doug Spreen, who said Sampras was experiencing some stomach discomfort.

Safin's confidence grew and he began making big shots. Sampras, equipped with one of the best serves in tennis, still would not yield.

Facing a break of serve, he benefited when chair umpire Wayne McKewen overruled an out call and awarded him an ace. He converted that by holding his service, extending his streak to 81 service games without being broken.

Trading shot for shot, the two men rolled through the set into a tiebreak. It was familiar territory for Sampras, who played four tiebreak sets in his classic quarterfinal victory over Andre Agassi two nights earlier.

Sampras' 16th ace of the match put him one point away. Safin saved one set point but hit long on the next, giving Sampras the set.

Safin never came back after losing the first two sets. A double fault put the Russian in trouble in the fourth game of the third set and Sampras converted with a return that just caught the back line. He kissed his racket in appreciation.

Sampras went into overdrive after that. His big serve produced 20 aces, the final one on match point, and he extended his streak of service games without being broken to 87.

Hewitt, who won marathon five-set matches against young Americans James Blake and Andy Roddick earlier in the Open, seized control from the start against Kafelnikov in the other semifinal. The fourth-seeded Australian was never threatened, breaking Kafelnikov almost at will.

"I knew I had a job to do," Hewitt said. "I just kept going after it. I knew I had a good chance against Yevgeny. I didn't want to let it slip."

Kafelnikov, who reached the semifinals with a straight-sets rubout of No. 1-ranked Gustavo Kuerten, looked like a different player against Hewitt. For the most part, he played listless tennis and his body language showed it. He dropped his head often and his shoulders sagged as the 20-year-old Hewitt displayed a wide range of shots.