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Baghdatis needs five sets to top Safin; Federer, Djokovic cruise

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Marcos Baghdatis needed five sets to
defeat Marat Safin 6-4, 6-4, 2-6, 3-6, 6-2 Thursday at the
Australian Open, evoking memories of his run to the 2006 final.

Earlier Thursday, top-seeded Roger Federer was
impressive again in ending friend Fabrice Santoro's record 62nd
Grand Slam tournament 6-1, 6-2, 6-0 in a match long on entertainment and short on drama.

But the marquee matchup of the night between Baghdatis and Safin was packed with drama -- long
rallies, seemingly impossible winners and shifts in momentum.

Baghdatis appeared to be on his way to a straight-sets victory,
looked down and out, then pulled himself together to set up a
third-round meeting with another former No. 1, Lleyton Hewitt.


The mercurial Safin, the 2005 champion who has slipped to No. 56
because of a rash of injuries, tossed his racket twice in
frustration while falling behind, then broke it after dropping
serve early in the fifth set.

Both players took tumbles on the court, with Safin making a
lunging layout to pick off a passing shot for a winner and
Baghdatis awkwardly doing the splits when he slipped on the dead
run.

The 15th-seeded Baghdatis constantly rallied two years ago,
feeding off the energy from vocal fans from Melbourne's large Greek
community, before he lost the final to Roger Federer.

His beard and ponytail are gone, but the support was there
again, and Baghdatis fed off it.

Sharp in taking the first two sets, Baghdatis' game slipped at
the same time Safin picked up his performance. The Russian broke
Baghdatis early in the third and fourth sets, then fended off
triple break point while serving at 5-3 to hold with his 11th ace
to even the match.

Baghdatis pulled ahead 3-0 in the fifth set and never yielded
the advantage despite constant pressure from Safin. He finished off
the victory in 3 hours, 13 minutes by breaking Safin for the fifth
time when a forehand went long on match point.

Santoro's wily courtcraft, anticipation and phenomenal
retrieving have carried him through a record 62 Grand Slam
tournaments, but he was no match for Federer when they shared the
stage Thursday.

When Santoro did win a closely contested point when Federer
miscued an overhead from an opportunistic defensive lob, he threw
up his hands in victory and jogged around in circles as if he had
just finished off the match.

But it was a rare mistake for Federer, who had 53 winners and 18
unforced errors and ran off the last 10 games to advance to the third round.

Federer set up match point with a leaping overhead, prompting a
plea from Santoro for a bit of mercy as he nodded toward the
scoreboard.

He got a laugh and a slight pause from Federer, who then held at
love and strode over the net to congratulate Santoro for bettering
Andre Agassi's 61 majors by one.

"Obviously I always enjoy the match against Fabrice," said
Federer, chasing his third consecutive Australian Open title and
his 13th major. "First time I played him, he totally dismantled
me. Showed I had a lot of things to work on.

"Today I was in great shape, could play aggressive. We always
have great rallies together, because of his playing style ... he
does a great job of making you doubt."

Santoro, at 35 the oldest player in the singles draw, was good
natured on and off the court.

"Regarding the score, it was not easy to have fun," he said,
"but I tried to have some."

Santoro broke into a smile when asked about his retirement
plans.

He had just been thrashed Federer,
and the crowd treated the match on Rod Laver Arena as the last
time they would see him play.

"I don't know yet. I can't answer a hundred percent now," the 35-year-old known as "The Magician" said when asked if 2008
would be his final year on the ATP tour.

"It was great," he said of the crowd reaction. "They're
maybe thinking it was my last match on this court, and this
court is very special for me."

No. 3-ranked Novak Djokovic, who beat Federer in the final of
the Masters Series event in Canada last year and then lost to him
in the U.S. Open final, had a 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 win over
Simone Bolelli.

Fifth-seeded David Ferrer advanced when Juan Martin Del Potro
retired in the third set. Former U.S. Open and Wimbledon champion
Lleyton Hewitt was broken when serving for the match in the third
set before beating Asian wild card entry Denis Isomin 7-6 (5), 6-3,
5-7, 6-1.

Also joining Federer in the third round were No. 7 Fernando Gonzalez, No. 10 David
Nalbandian, No. 12 James Blake, No. 13 Tomas Berdych and former No. 1-ranked Juan Carlos Ferrero.

No. 21 Juan Monaco beat American Amer Delic 6-3, 7-6 (6), 5-7,
6-7 (8), 8-6.

No. 10 David Nalbandian, who defeated Federer twice in
consecutive tournaments last October, had a
4-6, 7-5, 6-4, 6-1 win over Australian Peter Luczak.

Information from The Associated Press and Reuters was used in this report.