Safina moves out of brother's shadow with strong Grand Slam showing
Wednesday 04 June 2008
Dinara Safina has spent most of her professional life in the shadow of her brother, but Marat could soon find himself routinely referred to as the world No 14's older brother. As the former Australian and US Open champion has slid down the rankings – he is now No 73 in the world – so his sister has steadily built a name for herself.
One month after the best tournament of her career – Safina beat Justine Henin, Serena Williams and Elena Dementieva to win on clay in Berlin – the 22-year-old Russian is enjoying her finest run at a Grand Slam event here at the French Open. Having knocked out Maria Sharapova, the world No 1, in the fourth round, Safina produced another fighting comeback to beat Dementieva 4-6, 7-6, 6-0 and reach the semi-finals. She now plays another Russian, Svetlana Kuznetsova, who beat Kaia Kanepi 7-5, 6-2.
Today's victory over Dementieva was almost an action replay of Safina's defeat of Sharapova. In both matches Safina was a set and 5-2 down, saved a match point, won a tie-break and went on to claim victory.
Dementieva, the world No 8, had looked in command for a set and a half, striking the ball with venom and teasing Safina with a combination of powerful ground strokes and subtle drop shots. A break of serve in the ninth game secured the first set and Dementieva tightened her grip at the start of the second. Safina fought back after going 2-0 down, hanging on to her serve after a marathon third game and then breaking for 2-2, but Dementieva won the next three games in succession.
Safina screamed in frustration, threw her racket to the floor and whacked a floral display at the side of the court, but suddenly the match turned. Dementieva was within two points of victory when she served at 5-2, missed a match point at 5-3 when she put a backhand return out and was soon trailing 6-5, whereupon she saved three set points of her own. Safina did not look back after taking a 3-0 lead in the tie-break, which she eventually won 7-5 with a backhand winner down the line. Dementieva was never in contention in the final set and failed to win another game as Safina completed victory in two hours and 36 minutes.
"Once you've come back like that once, you always believe you might do it a second time," Safina said afterwards. "I told myself the match wasn't over, even though she led 5-2 and was a double break up. I still felt like I could hang in there.
"She gave me a free point on the match point. She made a mistake, and then I just said: 'OK, I'm going to stay in the match and just keep on playing, keep on fighting, just do what I can do'."Kuznetsova, runner-up here two years ago, had not been in good form in the run-up to Roland Garros but has reached the semi-finals without losing a set. If the world No 4 wins her second Grand Slam title here she would become world No 1, as would Ana Ivanovic or Jelena Jankovic, who meet in tomorrow’s other semi-final, if either went on to win the title.
The day after Ernests Gulbis became the first Latvian to play in a Grand Slam quarter-final, Kanepi became the first Estonian to do so. The world No 49 ran Kuznetsova close in the first set and had a point for a 5-2 lead, but the Russian’s response was formidable. The 2004 US Open champion broke in the third game of the second set and Kanepi was soon beaten.
"Her ball was really heavy and I was a bit tight at the start because I was nervous and wanted to do well," Kuznetsova said. "Then I figured my way and it became so much easier for me." She added: "The semi-final is going to be a very tough match. Dinara is playing very well on clay courts. She won in Berlin, she won two matches here when she was match point down. She has had too many lives, so I have to be careful with her."
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