Roger Federer won a record-tying 38-point tiebreaker after rallying from a 1-4 deficit in the second set to defeat Marat Safin, 6-3, 7-6 (20-18), yesterday in the semifinals of the ATP Masters Cup in Houston.
The tiebreaker lasted 261/2 minutes and was the third to reach 20-18 since the system started in 1970. Premjit Lall won a tiebreaker by that score against Bjorn Borg in the first round at Wimbledon in 1973, and Goran Ivanisevic did the same against Daniel Nestor in the first round of the 1993 U.S. Open.
The top-ranked Federer will play for his 11th title of the year today against Lleyton Hewitt, who won the final 20 points against a deflated Andy Roddick, 6-3, 6-2.
Federer extended his record against top 10 opponents to 22-0 dating from last year's Masters Cup. After rallying to force the tiebreaker, Federer fought off six set points and wasted seven match points. But the Swiss star finally ended it on his eighth match point, when 2000 U.S. Open champion Safin sailed a forehand long.
Hewitt trailed 2-1 in the second set and was serving when he took control, holding at love and not dropping another point the rest of the way.
Roddick went into that matchup determined to volley more than he usually does -- but that didn't quite pan out. Hewitt, like Roddick a former year-end No. 1 and U.S. Open champion, improved to 4-1 against the American.
"I just stoned them," Roddick said of his volley efforts. "I've been hitting them great all week, you know, better than I have. And today, that's about as bad as I've volleyed. It was just bad. I have to be kind of proud a little bit that I committed to doing it this week."
* GOLF: Tiger Woods closed in on his first title since February, shooting a 5-under-par 65 to open a 10-stroke lead at the Dunlop Phoenix in Miyazaki, Japan.
Naomichi Ozaki and Ryoken Kawagishi, both of Japan, and Daniel Chopra of Sweden are tied for second at 3-under 207 in the $1.89 million tournament, the richest on the Japanese tour. . . .
Fred Couples and Tom Watson led the comeback, and the American team moved out to a 61/2-51/2 lead over an international team after best-ball competition at the $3 million UBS Cup in Kiawah Island, S.C.
Trailing by one point entering the second day of the Ryder Cup-style competition for players 40 and older, the Americans won three matches, halved two others and lost one. The event ends today with 12 singles matches. . . .
Spain took the lead in the third round of World Cup golf, with Sergio Garcia and Miguel Angel Jimenez combining for an 11-under 61 to pull one shot ahead of England in Seville, Spain. The U.S. team of Scott Verplank and Bob Tway shot a 64 and was three shots off the lead along with Ireland (64), Sweden (64) and defending champion South Africa (64). . . .
Kirk Triplett offset three bogeys and a double bogey with five birdies in an even-par 72 and moved into sole possession of the lead after three rounds of the Pebble Beach (Calif.) International. Triplett moved to 9-under 207, one stroke better than Todd Fischer (67).
* SOCCER: Chelsea blew a two-goal lead and was held to a 2-2 tie by Bolton, while Arsenal managed only a 1-1 tie with struggling West Bromwich Albion in the Premier League.
Third-place Everton moved closer to Arsenal with a 1-0 victory over Fulham.
After 14 games, Chelsea has 33 points, Arsenal 31 and Everton 29.
Manchester United defeated Charlton, 2-0, behind goals from Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes. Charlton did little to test United's defense before 67,704 fans, and the only surprise was that Man United didn't score more.
* WINTER SPORTS: U.S. champion Johnny Weir won the Trophee Bompard in Paris despite a victory in the free skate by European champion Brian Joubert. Canada's Joannie Rochette won the ladies' event.
-- From News Services