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 (18), Saturday in the semifinals of the ATP Masters Cup.
The tiebreaker lasted 26 1/2 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.
"I'm happy to win that tiebreaker; it was very special," Federer said. "That was really fun. It was going back and forth and there were only big points. The level of play was very high. It's not like we were giving each other those points. The whole match was great."
The top-ranked Federer will play for his 11th title of the year today (4:30, ESPN) 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 to last year's Masters Cup, but it wasn't easy.
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. Safin's double-fault set up that last point.
"I'm already happy with the tournament," Federer said. "I came in not sure of how it would be because of the injury, and I hadn't played in a while, but I've won all my round-robin games and if I could win back-to-back championships, that would be fantastic."
Safin broke Federer in the second game of the second set and moved on to a 4-1 lead. Federer held in the sixth game after fighting off two break points and then broke Safin in the seventh game on Safin's forehand error.
"I was probably going for too much because I knew I have Roger Federer on the other side, so I had to do something extra," Safin said. "I didn't really make any huge mistakes in the tiebreak. I was unfortunately, a little bit nervous. I had to wait more for a good opportunity.
"Otherwise I don't regret anything from the tiebreak, even though I had six break points."
Hewitt trailed, 2-1, in the second set and was serving when he took complete 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."
Hewitt, with four titles and six finals appearances this year, improved his Masters Cup record to 13-4.
"I think he just hadn't had that many opportunities on my service games," Hewitt said.