Friday, June 5, 2009

Women's Final Preview: Safina Going For the One

Who:  No. 1 Dinara Safina vs. No. 7 Svetlana Kuznetsova
What:  French Open Final, 2009
Where: Court Philipe Chatrier at Roland Garros
When:  3 PM Paris time
* 2nd All-Russian final in history
* The 2nd French Open champion from Russia will be awarded the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen
* Safina is 8-5 all-time vs. Kuznetsova, but they have split the last two on clay this spring. 
* Safina defeated Kuznetsova in last year's French Open semi-finals, 6-3, 6-2, while Kuznetsova defeated Safina in the 2006 French Open Quarters, 7-6 (5), 6-0

Safina vs. Kuznetsova

If desire was a guarantee of Grand-Slam success, Dinara Safina wouldn't have anything to worry about. You'd be hard-pressed to find another woman on the tour that wants to win a Slam as bad as Safina - she's made it clear repeatedly that she covets that elusive Grand-Slam title more than anything else in the world.  

That sentiment is commendable in a day and age where many elite athletes are too busy racking up endorsements to really resonate with that bare-bones Rocky Balboa-type yearning for titles.  Safina is a throwback and her growing legion of fans is touched by her genuine persona.  

But desire doesn't hit clutch serves, or erase break points.  There is an inner calm that must be present in a champion, one that can transform a fire into a focus.  We already know Safina has the ability to win a Slam- but has she eliminated the doubt that can sometimes sabotage her big matches?  Tomorrow, the tennis world will find out.

Saturday afternoon's Woman's final will be an all-Russian affair for the first time since 2004.  And it promises to be a very entertaining match as well, judging from the type of tennis that each participant is playing thus far in the tournament.  

Svetlana Kuznetsova, a 2006 French Open finalist, and a semi-finalist last year, is fresh off of two very hard-fought three set wins.  The 5' 8" 160 lb. Russian has shown remarkable mental toughness in surviving emotional matches against No. 2 seed Serena Williams in the quarter finals, and upset minded Samantha Stosur in the semis.  

In both matches Kuznetsova relied on her experience and on her level-headedness, even after she blew opportunities to win each match in straight sets.  Rather than getting upset about letting Serena and Stosur back in the match, Kuznetsova stayed calm and scored huge victories after fighting through some very tight situations in the final sets of each match.  

Safina, on the other hand, has only been tested once at Roland Garros.  She was dominated for a set (and parts of another) by Feisty Belarusian Victoria Azarenka in the quarter finals, but the No. 1 ranked Russian passed that test with flying colors as she quickly found her focus and was able to take over and win convincingly.  

But even in her semi-final match with Dominika Cibulkova, Safina had her moments of shakiness.  She gifted the first two games to Cibulkova, and even though she was quick to win the next four, these lapses may be more devastating against an experienced opponent like Kuznetsova.  

Saturday's all-Russian tilt is a rubber match in two different ways:  

First it is the third of three matches on clay this spring between the two rivals.  Kuznetsova won their first meeting in Stuttgart 6-4, 6-3.  It was her first title since 2007 and the confidence gained from it has definitely boosted her play of late.  Safina took the pairs second match of the spring in the Rome finals, 6-3, 6-2.

The two have also met twice at Roland Garros, with Kuznetsova taking Safina in the 2006 quarters, and Safina avenging the loss in last years semis. 

If history is any indication, this could be a short match.  The last five matches played between Safina and Kuznetsova have been finished in straight sets, with Safina taking four of the five.  

Safina, the favorite at Roland Garros from day 1, has to remember that she must play like she has nothing to lose.  Grace under pressure, not nerves, should be the main factor in this sure-to be-exciting final. 

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