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Defending Champion Survives Thriller On Day 2

Safin© Tim EdwardsMarat Safin cruised past Thursday winner Xavier Malisse in straight sets to earn his first victory in London.

Fabrice Santoro was arguably the favourite to close out the year on the ATP Champions Tour with a victory at Champions Tennis in London at Royal Albert Hall.

But it seemed Mark Philippoussis had something to say about that when he broke the defending champion and recent Monterrey titlist to serve for the match at 5-4 in the second set. But much like some of the shots he produces, Santoro pulled off a magical comeback to defeat the Australian 5-7, 7-6(5), 10/6 in a thriller that lasted over two hours.

“A lot of fans, many people, great atmosphere, good player and friend on the other side of the net,” Santoro said. “Until the end you didn’t know who was going to win so it was a great match to play, and hopefully to watch, too.”

There were many long rallies in the match, with the powerful Philippoussis controlling play with his big serve and penetrating groundstrokes, forcing Santoro to play defense. But the Frenchman hung around and broke through with his back against the wall, before using the momentum from winning the second-set tie-break to storm through the champions tie-break.

“He’s incredibly crafty, he can do anything off both sides, but with him at least I feel like I’m in control of the point power-wise and he’s the one moving around,” Philippoussis said. “I put myself in the position to serve for it and played a loose game – I played a good game and I played a loose game too – and then all of a sudden, two tie-breaks, anything can happen.”

With the loss, Philippoussis will no longer be able to reach the championship match, since he also fell against Juan Carlos Ferrero on Thursday. The winner between Santoro and Ferrero on Saturday will earn a berth in Sunday’s final.

By the looks of it, they may just face Marat Safin, the former World No. 1, who blitzed Thursday winner Xavier Malisse 6-4, 6-3.

“We survived!” Safin joked. “[We were] both hitting the ball well and I’m still in quite good shape. He broke every bone of his body I guess! It was fun because it’s a beautiful venue and great crowd, good supporters who understand their tennis a lot and get really into it. The format is great as people can enjoy the tennis, walk around, have drinks and food. It’s really fun for us."

In the first game of the match, Malisse, who won on Thursday, held a 0/40 advantage on Safin’s serve. But the Russian escaped and would break late to claim the opening set. He served well throughout the entire match, hitting many aces, which helped him cruise to the victory.

“It was tough – I may have pulled my calf a bit – but it was fun,” Malisse said. “We had a good time, a good laugh and big serves from Marat. We had good, entertaining rallies, but he was just a little bit better today.”

If Safin manages to defeat Greg Rusedski on Saturday — the left-hander replaces Patrick Rafter, who hurt his calf against Malisse — he too will earn a spot in the final at the exciting Royal Albert Hall.

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