x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Safina facing Venus test

The pair face each other in final four after progressing in contrasting quarter-final matches at Wimbledon.

Dinara Safina makes a return during her three-set win over Sabine Lisicki yesterday in the quarter-finals at Wimbledon.
Dinara Safina makes a return during her three-set win over Sabine Lisicki yesterday in the quarter-finals at Wimbledon.

LONDON // Dinara Safina may be lacking in mental toughness when it comes to the moment of reckoning in major tournaments but the world No 1 can never be accused of not having the stomach for a fight. The Russian had needed all her battling qualities to turn around her fourth-round match against former champion Amelie Mauresmo on Monday and she returned to the same Centre Court arena yesterday to produce another stirring comeback under intense pressure.

Sabine Lisicki, a big-serving German teenager who has been one of the discoveries of this fortnight, looked like ousting a fourth seed in five matches when she prevailed in a nervy opening set tie-breaker and opened the second set with two highly impressive love service games. Safina refused to buckle though, and despite a wobbly service, which saw her rattle up an embarrassing total of 15 double faults, she called on her greater experience to carve out a gritty 6-7, 6-4, 6-1 victory in 2hr 28min.

She was assisted in a one-sided deciding set by a calf injury to Lisicki, ranked 41 in the world, which required a medical break and impaired her mobility on a stamina-sapping afternoon. But the tide had already turned by then and the German sensed that her wonderful Wimbledon was finally coming to an end. The top seed, who knows that her serve cannot be as unreliable in tomorrow's semi-final against defending champion Venus Williams if she is to end a desperate wait for a first grand slam title, was pleased that she withstood a severe test of character for the second day running.

"It's annoying that I don't start to play my best tennis here until I'm down," said the volatile Safina. She also confessed to being irritated by slurs she is unworthy of world No 1 status, having lost all three grand slam finals in which she has appeared. It is unlikely that she will get to a fourth, considering the way Venus has performed here, but she goes into the match believing that a repeat of her recent Rome victory is a possibility.

While Safina's fragile temperament may crack at any moment, Venus has been a model of relaxation so far and she was as carefree as ever as she analysed her latest effortless 6-1, 6-2 victory - a Court One mauling of Agnieszka Radwanska, the 11th-seeded Pole. "It's nice to get so much credit," said Venus in response to a suggestion that she and her sister, Serena, have been head and shoulders above the other players here.

"But I just have to emphasize that we work on it. We work day in and day out. To close these matches out takes a lot of work." In reality, Venus has not had to work that hard to get within reach of her eighth Wimbledon final. She has been detained for little over five hours in winning her five matches (one of them was only half a match against the injured Ana Ivanovic) and she is clearly going to take some stopping, according to Radwanska.

"It's very hard to play if she has a very good day. So hard to do anything on the court. If she plays like this she will take this tournament one more time." wjohnson@thenational.ae