Big occasion proves too much for stricken Safina
Sunday 07 June 2009
Dinara Safina has had to grow used to the jibes from the likes of Serena Williams. Ever since becoming world No 1 earlier this year the Russian has been fielding questions about whether she deserves that status given that she has never won a Grand Slam tournament.
Yesterday's French Open final against Svetlana Kuznetsova gave Safina the perfect chance to put an end to the debate. The 22-year-old Muscovite went into the match on the back of a 16-match unbeaten run on clay, but once again the big occasion got to her as Kuznetsova won 6-4 6-2 to claim her second Grand Slam title, five years after securing her first at the US Open. Safina lost the final here to Ana Ivanovic 12 months ago and was crushed by Williams in less than an hour in the final of the Australian Open earlier this year.
This time she lasted an hour and a quarter, but the match might have been over even more quickly had Kuznetsova taken more of her chances in the third all-Russian Grand Slam final.
On an uncharacteristically chilly Paris afternoon it was not a contest to warm the crowd, who eventually amused themselves with Mexican waves. Seven double faults by Safina, the last of them on match point, told their own story. The world No 1 looked a bag of nerves throughout. She never found any consistency on her ground strokes and her movement looked sluggish and laboured.
Kuznetsova did not have to raise her game to any great heights, though she improved as the match progressed. The world No 7, who lost Grand Slam finals here in 2006 and in New York two years ago, has also frozen on big stages in the past, but she has seemed more at ease with herself over the last fortnight. Towards the end of the second set she delighted the crowd with a clever piece of keepy-uppy – no mean feat with a tennis ball – which seemed to be an indication of her inner calm.
Safina dropped her first service game to love and was broken again to trail 5-3. Kuznetsova played a terrible game when serving for the first set, losing it to love with four successive errors, but Safina was unable to capitalise. Kuznetsova took the set with a big forehand winner and a smart backhand down the line.
At 2-2 in the second set two poor Safina forehands gave Kuznetsova both a break of serve and the confidence to close out the match. After her last double fault Safina was a picture of despair, flinging her racket to the floor in frustration. Kuznetsova thought the key to the match had been her own peace of mind and Safina's nerves. "She plays with too much pressure on her," Kuznetsova said. "But she's an amazing athlete and she will make it here one day."
Britain's Heather Watson and the Hungarian Timea Babos were beaten in the final of the girls' doubles, going down 3-6 6-3 10-8 to Elena Bogdan and Noppawan Lertcheewakarn.
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