x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Safina through despite errors

Dinara Safina just about kept her explosive temper and fragile nerve to bludgeon her way past the Slovakian Dominika Cibulkova.

Dinara Safina just about kept her explosive temper and fragile nerve yesterday to bludgeon her way past the Slovakian Dominika Cibulkova to reach her second successive French Open final. The Russian, runner-up here to Ana Ivanovic 12 months ago and also the beaten finalist in this year's Australian Open, will be hoping that it will be third time lucky as she strives to supplement her cherished world No 1 status with a grand slam title.

Impressive in the first four rounds which she stormed through for an aggregate loss of only five games, she has stuttered a little since and a more composed opponent than Cibulkova might have taken advantages of some glaring weaknesses as she carved out a 6-3, 6-3 win. It was an unsatisfactory encounter in which both players hit more errors than winners and Safina was left starkly aware that she will need to improve considerably tomorrow to avoid being disappointed in another final.

"It wasn't an easy match and I felt tight throughout," admitted Safina who found it hard to get going on Court Philippe Chatrier. "I wasn't doing anything at the start. She was making me run all about the court so I just told myself I have to start hitting my shots and going for the angles." At this stage of a grand slam tournament winning is all that matters and Safina is upbeat about her prospects in the final. "I had a great experience here last year and I just need to do a little bit better," she said. "I am just going to go for it."

Safina frequently struggled to hold her own serve to her undoubted frustration. After the wildest of double faults - her fifth of seven - she was fortunate to escape censure for an audible obscenity (in English) which would have made her non-conformist big brother Marat Safin blush. In the main she has kept such outbursts to a minimum in the last year and has been richly rewarded for that degree of self control.

She is playing the best tennis of her life at the moment and this gritty semi-final victory extended her winning streak to 16 matches which takes in the 10th and 11th career titles won in Rome and Madrid. That sequence had come under threat by Cibulkova. When the 20th seed nonchalantly strolled into a 2-0 lead, the prospect of her inflicting similar damage on the world No 1 to what she had done in the quarter-finals to a former world No 1 Maria Sharapova, occupied the thoughts of spectators in a stadium which at that early stage was barely half full.

There was never a hint that the diminutive Slovakian would repeat her marvellous feat of taking the first 11 games from an illustrious Russian rival, though, as Safina gradually found her range. Indeed it was the top seed who looked like going on a winning run as she put together a sequence of five games which would have been six if she had converted any of three break points at 5-2. Safina eventually closed out that 49-minute opening set on her own serve but was on the backfoot again at the start of the second set and had to ward off two break points to avoid having to play catch-up again.

Cibulkova then paid a high price for making a rare visit to the net as she volleyed tamely straight at her opponent who cruelly lobbed the ball back into an empty court to set up the chance to make what proved the decisive break in the fifth game, Safina adding another break in the ninth game to put both players out of their misery. wjohnson@thenational.ae