x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Safina stakes her claim

Dinara Safina hopes to hit top form at the US Open by winning the first of the Flushing Meadows warm-up tournaments in Los Angeles.

Safina, pictured after winning in Los Angeles, is now seventh in the world.
Safina, pictured after winning in Los Angeles, is now seventh in the world.

Dinara Safina, who failed to live up to expectations at Wimbledon after reaching the first grand slam final of her career at Roland Garros two weeks earlier, indicated that she is going to be a strong contender for the US Open by winning the first of the Flushing Meadows warm-up tournaments in Los Angeles. The strongly built Russian who occasionally displays as fiery a temperament as her more famous brother Marat, upset the plans of the world No 2 Jelena Jankovic on the way to winning her seventh career title and her second of the season.

Wimbledon is the only blot on an eye-catching recent form report of Safina, who has reached the final in the the other four of the last five tournaments she has appeared in. "I was just playing better and better as the week progressed," she seaid after her comfortable 6-4, 6-2 final victory over Italy's Flavia Pennetta. Jankovic had entered last week's Tier Two event with a view to sneaking to the top of the world rankings ahead of her Serbian compatriot Ana Ivanovic, who chose not to play in Los Angeles, but the power of Safina proved too much for Jankovic in their semi- final clash.

Now Safina, 22, who was yesterday promoted to a career-best eighth in the world and is in close proximity to the world No 7 and Wimbledon champion Venus Williams - currently out of action with a knee injury - is setting her sights on spoiling things for Ivanovic in this week's Rogers Cup in Montreal. The two are possible rivals in Saturday's semi-finals, providing Safina can get past her higher ranked countrywoman Svetlana Kuznetsova in the quarters.

In the other half of the draw, which has attracted seven of the world's top 10, Jankovic could meet Maria Sharapova, also in the hunt to claim the top ranking, in the other semi-final. The chances of the third-ranked Sharapova overtaking Ivanovic this week are slim but the former world No 1 is hoping to re-establish her reputation after a sticky second quarter of the year. Sharapova had looked like becoming the dominant force in the women's game following the retirement of the Belgians Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters.

But she has failed to impose herself in recent months, withdrawing injured from several events and losing embarrassingly in the early rounds at Roland Garros and Wimbledon. Now the statuesque figure of the world's highest earning sportswoman has regrouped and is seeking to repeat her Flushing Meadows triumph of 2006 which would, in all probability, see her reclaim the coveted top ranking. Ivanovic also has some rebuilding to do after her alarming collapse at Wimbledon under the burden of arriving in London as the newly-crowned French Open champion and new world No 1.

The popular player has not been seen on a tennis court since her embarrassing third round defeat by China's Jie Zheng at the All England Club. @Email:wjohnson@thenaitonal.ae