x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Safina's search for elusive grand slam title continues

The second seed at the Australian Open is forced to retire injured from her fourth round clash against Maria Kirilenko.

A recurrence of a back injury forced Dinara Safina to retire against Maria Kirilenko yesterday.
A recurrence of a back injury forced Dinara Safina to retire against Maria Kirilenko yesterday.

Second seed Dinara Safina, last year's losing Australian Open finalist, suffered more misery yesterday when she was forced to retire injured from her fourth-round clash against Maria Kirilenko. Having maintained that the back problems which blighted the end of her 2009 season were now behind her, Safina arrived in Melbourne insisting she was at full fitness.

And so it appeared as the Russian waltzed through her opening three rounds in straight sets. The 23-year old former world No 1's form even looked capable of ending her hunt for an elusive win at one of the majors. But her quest goes on. Trailing 4-5 in the first set, Safina netted a weak forehand, which brought Kirilenko set point, and shook her head at the umpire. Game over. In excruciating pain, Safina, who revealed she had taken painkillers before the match, said her troubles began after just four games.

"It suddenly hit me," said the powerful Russian. "It was getting worse and worse, I have no idea really how it could happen, it's really, really terrible. "In the warm-up, it was fine. I was cooling down and I started to feel a little more pain. Suddenly I played a long game at 3-2 and although I won the game, I turned to my coach and said 'I cannot move any more'." World No 58 Kirilenko's reward for reaching her first slam quarter-final is a clash with the unseeded Zheng Jie, the 7-6, 6-4 conqueror of Ukraine's 31st seeded Alona Bondarenko.

"I kept fighting and trying to force it," said Jie, who believes a quarter-final place validates her decision to break away from China's regimented sports system at the end of 2008. "I'm happy for today because last year was the first year I've gone it alone. There were many things I didn't understand or know about and things weren't easy, but I have the will." Elsewhere, Justine Henin's impressive return to competitive action continued with a 7-6, 1-6, 6-3 win over fellow Belgian Yanina Wickmayer.

"It's been a great moment for myself, just to be back and everything's going so well," said Henin, who saved three set points in the opening set. "It wasn't easy. She played a great match, really aggressive. Physically it's not so easy having not played for two years, but that's why I love being on court." Next up for seven-time slam finalist Henin is the Russian 19th seed Nadia Petrova, who beat Belgium's other comeback queen, Kim Clijsters, in the third round. Having tamed Clijsters, Petrova went one better in beating a tired-looking Svetlana Kuznetsova, the French Open champion, 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 to reach the last eight.

"I think [my form] has a lot to do with my pre-season," said Petrova. "I've had six weeks of hard work which has really taken my fitness to another level. I know how much gas I have in my tank, so I know that I can really push and dig really deep." emegson@thenational.ae