x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Safina letting her racket do the talking

The Russian answers her critics in style and warns that she can do much better after her stunning victory over Aravane Rezai.

Dinara Safina sets herself to unleash a forehand during her rout of her French opponent. The Russian lost only one game.
Dinara Safina sets herself to unleash a forehand during her rout of her French opponent. The Russian lost only one game.

Dinara Safina has had to endure some cruel taunts about her worthiness to be at the top of the world rankings and, consequently, at the top of the list of seeds for the French Open but the powerful Russian is threatening to make her detractors, particularly Serena Williams, eat their words.

Serena, the younger of the two all-conquering American sisters, had declared that only grand slam winners (she has 10 and big sister Venus has seven) deserve to be called world No 1 and even went as far as to suggest: "Everybody knows who the real No 1 is." Based on the form the top two women have shown during the first week at Roland Garros, Safina can hold her head up proudly and fancy her chances of going one step better on the Paris clay than a year ago when she lost in the final to Serbia's Ana Ivanovic, the defending champion who exited the tournament in straight sets yesterday at the hands of Victoria Azarenko.

The Russian warned that she has still not peaked in Paris. "Honestly, I still feel I can do much better," she said after thrashing France's Aravane Rezai 6-1, 6-0 and conceding only nine points in the second set. "I think that if somebody would push me more I still can get much more out of myself." Winning four matches for the loss of an aggregate of only five games is championship form in anybody's book and Safina finds herself in the quarter-finals of a gruelling tournament feeling as fresh as she could have hoped to be.

On the other hand, Serena, a winner here in 2002, has much improving to do if she is going to keep her scheduled appointment in Saturday's final against Safina and bring about a repeat of the Australian Open final, which went the way of the American, in January. Serena, who frequently looks vulnerable at the start of big events but invariably grows stronger as they progress, has needed to come from a set behind in two of her three matches so far but she has responded powerfully to the threats and is now looking to turn up the gas.

Hot air of a different kind emanated from her third-round victory over Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez, an unseeded Spaniard whom she accused of cheating. "What word would you use?" said Serena when it was put to her that she was using strong language to describe a controversial incident which occurred midway through the first set which Martinez Sanchez went on to win. Williams was convinced that one of her fierce backhands struck her opponent's arm as the Spaniard executed a winning volley.

"When that happens you lose the point automatically," said an irate Serena. "So she should have conceded the point instead of cheating." Martinez Sanchez denied any wrong doing when she was quizzed about the incident. She dismissed Serena's outburst as "a stupid comment". Of more pressing concern to Serena is Jelena Jankovic, another who has irritated her in the past by claiming world No 1 status without winning a major.

The popular Serbian continues to make light of a niggling abdominal strain as she attempts to enhance a decent French Open record. Jankovic has dropped only 10 games in easing effortlessly through to today's fourth-round encounter with the unseeded Romanian Sorana Cirstea. wjohnson@thenational.ae