- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 6, 2006

After an eventful week in which the top six seeds were eliminated early, the championship match of the Legg Mason Tennis Classic is set.

Eighth-seeded Andy Murray will face 11th-seeded Arnaud Clement in the final today. They will compete for more than $74,000 and 200 precious ATP ranking points.

And they also will play for respect and confidence.

Murray, a 19-year-old heir apparent to the British tennis throne, is gaining the attention of the tennis community with his smooth, all-around game that still has some rough edges of raw power.

Last night, Murray proved the perfect counter-punch to seventh-seeded Dmitry Tursunov’s relentless, brawny game as he knocked off the heavy hitter with a 6-2, 7-5 victory.

“Well, I felt like I was controlling the match, pretty much the whole way through,” Murray said. “Against someone like him who hits the ball as hard as he does and he plays such a high risk tennis. … I just had to concentrate.”

After a swift first set, Murray fell behind 5-2 in the second set. Then, with Tursunov serving for the set, up 5-3, Murray broke his serve and coasted to a 7-5 victory.

Murray won the first three points in that crucial, momentum-shifting game.

“It is always important when someone is serving out the set to try to really concentrate on that first point,” Murray said. “If you can get a lead and maybe the next point there is always a little extra pressure serving for the set. … Guys tend to relax when they get the first point. … After I took the first point I knew I had a chance.”

Tursunov also aided Murray’s comeback with 36 unforced errors.

Murray, No. 35 in the world with a 24-17 record, has reached only one final this year — when he won in San Jose in February.

This is also the first tournament Murray has played under the tutelage of Brad Gilbert, former coach of Andre Agassi and Andy Roddick.

“The first couple of matches I was a little bit nervous because Brad Gilbert is my coach and you know if he gives me a tactic and I do it badly, I feel bad,” Murray said. “Now that we know each other a bit better, I am a little bit more relaxed than the start of the week.”

Murray will have to find a way to relax against the consistent, well-rounded Clement.

The Frenchman Clement fought through two tiebreakers in his 7-6 (5), 7-6 (4) victory over unseeded Marat Safin to advance to his first tournament final since February.

Safin, the tournament’s Cinderella story, had taken down top seed James Blake in the round of 16 before succumbing to Clement’s powerful serves.

Safin won only 19 of 75 points when returning and he broke Clement’s serve just twice the entire match.

Despite his returning woes, Safin — once the top-ranked player in the world — held his serve enough to force two tiebreakers.

It was in those tiebreakers that Clement took control of the match.

“My nerves just went in the important moments,” Safin said. “I haven’t played in a semifinal in a long time. … It was my nerves.”

In the first set tiebreaker, Clement came back from a 3-1 deficit and capitalized on Safin’s double fault at 5-5 to take the set.

Then, in the second set tiebreaker, Clement jumped out to a 3-1 lead and never looked back en route to a 7-4 victory for the match.

“Well, it was kind of a little bit disappointing to me, this kind of match, because it slipped away,” Safin said.

Clement, No. 57 in the world, also knocked out fifth-seeded Dominik Hrbaty and third seed Lleyton Hewitt en route to yesterday’s match.

Although Clement played well enough to win, capitalizing on 74 percent of his service points, he admitted that he benefited from Safin’s poor play. Safin hit 40 unforced errors, while Clement hit 22.

“There is a few games against [Safin] you have no chance,” Clement said. “He can break. He can serve. He can do anything. But sometimes I know that he can make a few mistakes in a row. I know for me, I just have to be focused and be very consistent.”

Clement and Murray have faced each other just once before. Clement won the 2005 U.S. Open match 6-2, 7-6 (2), 2-6, 6-7 (4), 6-0 in the round of 64.

“[Clement] is very consistent, very quick,” Murray said. “He’s actually got a very good serve for his height and he returns well. He doesn’t do anything spectacular, but he doesn’t do anything badly. I think all of shots are very good, so it’s going to be a tough match.”

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