x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Safina's golden chance to get off the mark

The world No 1 has had things much easier over the last few days than Svetlana Kuznetsova and that could be the decisive factor in their French Open final.

Despite Dinara Safina labouring over the last two hurdles towards a second successive French Open final, the world No 1 has had things much easier over the last few days than her seventh-ranked rival Svetlana Kuznetsova and that could be the decisive factor in this afternoon's all Russian women's final. Safina expended minimal energy in reaching the quarter-finals for the loss of only five games and although her two opponents since, Victoria Azarenka and Dominika Cubulkova, gave her a few worrying moments, she arrives in her third grand slam final far fresher than she could have expected to be.

Kuznetsova, on the other hand, looked close to collapsing as she clinched her place in what will be her fourth grand slam final - she won the first of them, the US Open, in 2004. She has been taken the distance in her last three matches, two of them on successive days. While Safina had a day's rest between quarter-final and semi, Kuznetsova had to regroup only a few hours after her epic victory over the second seed Serena Williams in her quarter-final.

She desperately wanted a routine passage against Australian Samantha Stosur in Thursday's last four clash, but that turned into another marathon. Emotionally drained and physically shattered ahead of what will be her 14th confrontation with Safina, who has beaten her eight times, Kuznetsova tried to play down her level of fitness. "I now have a day off so that's great," said Kuznetsova who continues to be concerned about an ankle which she sprained while playing Serena. "I'm tired for now, but I'm going to be sleeping and I'm going to be good tomorrow."

Nerves, or the lack of them, will also play a big part in determining the second major women's honour of the year. Kuznetsova has a poor record in finals while defeats by Ana Ivanovic here a year ago and by Serena in this year's Australian Open final will be playing on the mind of Safina. It looks an irresistible opportunity, though, for Safina to silence those who have questioned her worthiness to be world No 1 without holding a top title.

wjohnson@thenational.ae