Hrbaty to meet Safin in Saint Petersburg Open final


SAINT PETERSBURG, Russia, AFP

Third seed Dominik Hrbaty upset Russia’s Olympic champion Yevgeny Kafelnikov in straight sets here on Saturday to book a berth in the final of the Saint Petersburg Open. The 22-year-old Slovakian defeated second seed Kafelnikov, who won the title here in 1995, for the eighth time in :Eeir eight meetings. In the final, he will play another Russian — top seed Marat Safin, who eased past Sweden’s Jonas Bjorkman. The 26-year-old Kafelnikov, who is ranked fifth in the world, earned a comfortable 4-1 lead in the opening set. He then led 5-2 but Hrbaty, who is currently ranked 20th in the ATP race, took five games in a row to win the set 7-5 in 52 minutes. Hrbaty started the second with an immediate break. Later he increased his advantage to win the set 6-3 and the match in one hour 23 minutes. “Kafelnikov was in a hurry to finish the first set,” Hrbaty said. “He made mistakes, while I was patient.” “Yevgeny (Kafelnikov) is playing the kind of tennis, I find east to read. I have a reply for his every move.” “Every time we have played the outcome has been finely balanced, but each time luck has been on my side,” Hrbaty added.

The 20-year-old Safin, who defeated Bjorkman for the third time in their three head-to-head meetings, now looks set to go top of the ATP Champions Race following Patrick Rafter’s win over Gustavo Kuerten in the quarter-finals at Lyon. He came into the tournament here lying second in the year long race, narrowly behind Kuerten, the French Open champion. Both players begun the match ultra cautiously, but Safin showed more precision and confidence, making less unforced mistakes, and won the set 6-4 in 32 minutes after he broke Bjorkman’s serve in the ninth game. Safin broke his opponent’s serve in the third game of the second to take a comfortable 3-1 lead, but Bjorkman, 28, broke back to level in the eighth game.

The U.S. Open champion is searching for his seventh career title here. He said he was pleased with his current form, and that he felt he would also be at his best for next week’s Paris Bercy tournament the last of the nine Masters Series events for the year. “My main goal is to play at my best in Paris and to go top of the ATP Champions Race,” he said.”