Safina settles nerves to set up all-Russian final

World No 1 will try to make up for past heartache in Paris as she takes on Kuznetsova
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The Independent Online

The women's singles competition at the French Open has been one of the poorest in living memory but three Russians will recall it with affection. Maria Sharapova reached the quarter-finals of her second comeback tournament after a 10-month absence with a shoulder injury, while Dinara Safina will tomorrow meet Svetlana Kuznetsova in only the second all-Russian final in Grand Slam history. Anastasia Myskina beat Elena Dementieva here in 2004 in the first.

Safina, who will be aiming to make up for her disappointment at losing to Ana Ivanovic in last year's final and to Serena Williams in this year's Australian Open final, did not need to be at her best to beat Dominika Cibulkova 6-3, 6-3 in the semi-finals. Kuznetsova, who has lost two Grand Slam finals since winning the US Open in 2004, was given a tougher workout by Sam Stosur but won 6-4, 6-7, 6-3.

While the men's tournament has caught the public's imagination here, the women's event has barely registered. The Avenue de la Porte d'Auteuil, the main approach road to Roland Garros, is usually teeming with ticket touts, but yesterday – the first day when there have been no men's matches – there were only a handful, standing in forlorn huddles on the pavement.

Some of them walk up and down with pieces of card on which they have scribbled "cherche places", but on this occasion at least two had added "dimanche". If Roger Federer is in Sunday's men's final – the Swiss meets Juan Martin del Potro in the second of today's semi-finals – there will be huge demand for tickets, but yesterday the touts might just as well have been selling foie gras at a vegetarians' convention.

The first semi-final was hardly a contest to reignite interest in women's tennis. Safina had rattled through her first four matches here, dropping only five games along the way, but the world No 1 had to come from behind to beat Victoria Azarenka in the quarter-finals and made a succession of errors against Cibulkova, who converted only one of her eight break points. The 20-year-old Slovakian later said she had "got in a panic" after making some early mistakes.

Safina, 23, admitted she too had been nervous. "It was not an easy match and I struggled at the start," she said. "I was tense because I wanted to win so badly. Instead of dominating from the first point, I waited until Cibulkova started to dominate before I started playing."

Kuznetsova, who is the only player to have beaten Safina in her 21 clay-court matches this year, was made to fight all the way by Stosur, who two winters ago could barely walk out of her front door, let alone pick up a racket, after going down with Lyme disease, a debilitating tick-borne illness. The Australian has steadily climbed back up the rankings since starting her comeback in April last year and has found her best singles form here.

Stosur fought back from 2-4 down in the second set and again in the tie-break, in which Kuznetsova took a 5-2 lead before losing the next five points. However, the Russian made an early break in the decider and never looked back.