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Thursday, January 22, 2009
Federer seeks retribution against Safin

By Ravi Ubha
Special to ESPN.com

Roger Federer
Roger Federer is 3-0 versus Marat Safin since their sublime 2005 encounter Down Under.
MELBOURNE, Australia -- Here's a look at some notable matches on Day 5 of the Australian Open:

Roger Federer (2) vs. Marat Safin (26): Memories are made of this.

Federer approaches behind a serve aimed at Safin's acclaimed backhand, and the Russian counters low, cross court. Federer impressively stretches by putting his volley in play with a floater landing near the baseline. Safin uncorks a forehand, and the Swiss again stretches to retrieve, this time doing even better, as the ball lands short. For a split second, Safin appears to be in trouble, but he charges and sends back a lob that has Federer scurrying. Attempting to go between his legs, Federer can't do the impossible -- for once -- and his effort finds the net.

That memorable point came on match point for Federer, leading 6-5 in a fourth-set tiebreaker, in the semifinals at Melbourne Park in 2005. Safin subsequently triumphed 9-7 in the fifth. On his own decisive match point, he floored Federer with a stunning backhand down the line, then deposited a forehand into an open court.

Fans can only hope for something similar when the titans square off in the night session Friday at Rod Laver Arena.

"It's going to be a nice match, for sure," Federer said in the wake of his comfortable second-round victory over Safin's countryman, the much younger Evgeny Korolev. "We have a history. We go way back. It was just always, I thought, a good matchup. So I was actually happy."

He has reason to be.

In the three contests between the two that followed that 2005 spectacular, Federer went 3-0. Mind you, the clashes unfolded on grass, Safin's least favorite surface and Federer's most productive. The last two were straight-set wins at Wimbledon in 2007 and 2008. Adding to the intrigue is the fact that Safin, an enjoyably colorful character -- even if he has underachieved by winning only two majors -- is making a farewell appearance in Oz. He'll retire when this campaign ends, or at least that's what the fickle 28-year-old is currently saying.

Safin got a rousing reception after his win over Spaniard Guillermo Garcia Lopez on Wednesday. He hasn't dropped a set in two rounds, unusual for him lately at the Grand Slams, no matter the foe.

"Much easier to play without any pressure," Safin said. "So I can say I'm playing much better than last year, that's for sure. Serving much better, much more comfortable on the court, back of the court. The serve gives me a lot of advantage, so it's a little bit easier."

Federer hasn't lost prior to the semifinals in a Grand Slam since 2004.

Prediction: Federer in five.

Mardy Fish (23) vs. Marcos Baghdatis: Players often get asked how the crowd helps them during matches. Mostly they utter something to the effect of, "Yeah, without them, I wouldn't have won." Half the time, though, it sounds like just another line. But there is no doubting Baghdatis when he says the passionate Cypriot fans got him through the second round. Trailing by a set and 4-0 to enigmatic Swede Robin Soderling, Baghdatis awoke and ended up winning in four. Fish, meanwhile, made it look easy against Italian Simone Bolelli. A native of Edina, Minn., Fish achieved his first Grand Slam quarterfinal two years ago here. The big serve needs to click.

Prediction: Baghdatis in four.

Caroline Wozniacki (11) vs. Jelena Dokic: Wozniacki, a hard-hitting, intelligent Danish teen, is projected to crack the top 10 shortly. Last week, she had Serena Williams down and out at a prep event in Sydney before a typical comeback by the nine-time Grand Slam champ. Successful Dutchman Sven Groeneveld, who coaches Wozniacki as part of his duties with adidas, says she "is going to be a fierce competitor to anybody." Dokic's Cinderella story continued Wednesday, delighting the locals. The Aussie -- beset by personal problems that caused her ranking to plummet from inside the top five to, at one point, outside the top 600 -- upset volatile Russian Anna Chakvetadze.

Prediction: Wozniacki in two.

Ravi Ubha is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.