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Federer is off and running

Roger Federer put a quick end to Marat Safin's exhausting run in the Australian Open. The Swiss star won his second Grand Slam title and solidified his No. 1 ranking, beating Safin 7-6 (7-3), 6-4, 6-2.

"What a great start to the year for me, to win the Australian Open and become No. 1 in the world," Federer said. "To fulfill my dreams, it really means very much to me."

Federer, also the Wimbledon champion, won in 2 hours, 15 minutes when Safin _ who tied a Grand Slam record by playing 30 sets _ hit a forehand long on championship point.

"I'm really sorry, I just ran out of gas," said Safin, in the first stage of a comeback from wrist and other injuries that limited him to 13 tournaments last year.

"(Safin) had to battle. He's been longer on the court than me, way longer," Federer said. "It's really nice to see him back. He's a great guy and a great player."

The 22-year-old Federer, who clinched the top spot in the rankings with a semifinal victory over Juan Carlos Ferrero, has not lost a set in his two Grand Slam final appearances. He beat Mark Philippoussis in straight sets at Wimbledon last year.

But when talk turns to a calendar-year Grand Slam of all four majors _ Australian, French Open, Wimbledon, U.S. Open _ Federer has his doubts.

"I think it's really difficult," he said, adding with a smile: "I'm the only guy who has a chance this year to do it, so that's not a bad situation."

The last man to complete a calendar-year Grand Slam was Rod Laver. The Australian did it 1962 and 1969.

"Tennis is too equal, and everybody can beat everybody," Safin said. "Maybe two a year but not all four of them. It takes a lot of energy. It's too difficult. Too many matches."

Safin knows about too many matches, spending about eight hours more on court than Federer in the Australian Open.

Federer, 4-1 against Safin, had 40 winners and 28 unforced errors; Safin had 19 winners and 41 unforced errors. Safin twice slammed his racket into the court to vent his growing frustration.

"I was out of energy, my legs were just too tired," Safin said. "I was a little too tired to keep up with him."

Safin had 123 aces in six previous matches, including 31 against Andre Agassi without a double fault. But he had just three against Federer and five double faults.

Safin matched American Harold Solomon's record of 30 sets for a Grand Slam tournament set in the 1976 French Open.

RANKINGS: Federer will be the 23rd man to hold the top spot when rankings are released today. He is the first Swiss man to be No. 1. Justine Henin-Hardenne keeps the top ranking among the women after beating Belgian countrywoman Kim Clijsters in the Open final. Clijsters, still without a Grand Slam title, is No. 2.

Former No. 1 Andy Roddick slips to third, Ferrero moves to second and Agassi drops to fifth. Safin, a former No. 1, makes the biggest jump from 86th to the low 30s, the ATP said.

For the women, Amelie Mauresmo, who pulled out of her quarterfinal with a back injury, rises to third, switching places with Serena Williams. Saddlebrook's Jennifer Capriati missed the tournament but rises to fifth.

Up next:ANN JENKINS

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