Thursday, June 4, 2009

Day 12: Relentless Russians Safina, Kuznetsova, Set for Rubber Match

The only player to defeat No. 1 Seed Dinara Safina on clay this season will get another chance to do it again on Saturday.  

Svetlana Kuznetsova survived a three set thriller against upset-minded Australian Samantha Stosur on Court Philippe Chatrier, 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-3.  

The two hour and twenty-five-minute pressure cooker is the second grueling three setter that Kuznetsova has found a way to win in two days.  Yesterday she outlasted Serena Williams in a two hour and forty-eight-minute battle of wills.  

Oddly, both matches followed similar patterns, with Kuznetsova taking the first set and going up a break in the second set.  But just like Serena Williams yesterday, Stosur fought valiantly to push Kuznetsova to a third set.  

After forcing a second set tiebreaker with a late break, Stosur quickly fell behind in the tiebreaker.  She double faulted to start the tiebreak, then lost the point of the match in a rapid volley duel at the net to fall behind 4-1.  But the feisty Australian refused to quit.  After hitting a daring inside out forehand to get to 5-3, she reeled off 4 more points consecutively to level the match at a set apiece.  

As the third set began it appeared that Stosur was the fresher of the two players.  But her first chance to take the upper hand was wasted, as Kuznetsova nullified a break point opportunity and went on to hold to stay on serve at 3-2.  

Kuznetsova, drawing from her wealth of experience in big matches, quickly earned two break points in the ensuing game.  Stosur's generosity in the form of an unforced error was accepted by the Russian, with the break giving her the advantage she would never relinquish.  

In the end Kuznetsova's experience in the late round of Slams appeared to outweigh her fatigue from having played so much grueling tennis in the last twenty-four hours.  She hit eleven winners in the final set, while Stosur only managed two.  

Safina Takes Care Of Business

In a match that featured some truly stellar baseline hitting, Dinara Safina overcame an early 2-0 deficit to dark horse Dominika Cibulkova to win easily, 6-3, 6-3.  

Safina, who is questing for the first Grand-Slam title of her career after losing in two of the last four Grand-Slam finals, appeared calm and purposeful, in spite of spotting the spritely Slovakian a break early in the first set.  

While Safina's seven double faults and 24 unforced errors left a little bit to be desired, the fact that she maintained her calm and was still able to win easily while not playing perfect tennis bodes well for her as she prepares to play her compatriot, Svetlana Kuznetsova in the French Open Women's final on Saturday.  

Even with the straight set victory, Safina sees room for improvement in her game.  "Obviously it gives you much more confidence when you know that you can do much better, even without playing your best," she said.  "It just shows that if I level up myself it can be much better."

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