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Safin beats Kafelnikov

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia, Oct. 27 (UPI) -- In their first meeting in familiar surroundings, defending champion Marat Safin used his powerful serve to unsettle Yevgeny Kafelnikov Saturday as the third seed fired 19 aces to past his second-seeded fellow-Russian, 6-7 (4-7), 6-2, 6-4, and returned to the final of the $800,000 St. Petersburg Open.

In Sunday's title match, Safin will face German Rainer Schuettler, who won his semifinal encounter with French qualifier Michael Llodra, 6-3, 6-4.

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Safin has gotten the best of his compatriot in their last two meetings. Since losing their first career battle at the 1999 Italian Open, the 21-year-old rolled over Kafelnikov in the final of last month's President's Cup in Tashkent, Uzbekistan before winning Saturday's duel in front of a crowd of about 10,000.

Safin managed to settle down after dropping the first-set tiebreak. The 2000 U.S. Open champion displayed the form that helped him reach the semifinals at Flushing Meadows this year, as well as the Wimbledon quarterfinals.

Currently ranked 11th in the ATP Champions Race, Safin will hope victory on Sunday, coupled with a strong outing at next week's Tennis Masters Series event at Paris will earn him a berth into the season-ending Tennis Masters Cup at Sydney.

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Kafelnikov has played strong as the season winds down. In addition to winning his second title of the year in Moscow, he reached the semifinals at the U.S. Open and the final four at the Tennis Masters Series event in Stuttgart last week.

Schuettler thwarted Llodra's serve-and-volley game to advance to his third final in the last six weeks.

The 25-year-old, who eliminated top seed Juan Carlos Ferrero on Wednesday, won his second career ATP crown at the Heineken Open at Shanghai, China on September 23. Schuettler advanced to the final of the Salem Open at Hong Kong the following week.

Safin has won two of his three lifetime meetings with Schuettler. In the St. Petersburg quarterfinals a year ago, the eventual champion outlasted Schuettler in three sets.

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