The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming
June 4, 2009 -- Ladies day at the 2009 French Open showcased two newcomers to the rarified air of a Grand Slam semifinal. And these ladies certainly got into some serious slug-festing. We all know that Roland Garros is played on red clay, which is supposed to be a 'slow surface.' However, some of today's exchanges looked an awful lot like ones played on a hard-court.
Dinara Safina, the #1 seed, has fulfilled her mission so far. She made it to the semifinal and now to the final. That's where she landed last year, too, coming up short when Ana Ivanovic won the title.
However, this year is different for Safina because she's a different Safina. Gone are the intense emotional outbursts. When she looks up to her box and sees her coach it's not sympathy or motherly love she gets. Instead Zeljko Krajan stares at her intensely, as if threatening through his gaze to get her act together or else. Safina reacts well to his strong-arm approach. It knocks out all that gobbledygook in her mind that used to whip her into a tizzy. She is more prepared for the occasion.
"Last year it was everything much easier," she said. "Like I step on the court and I have nothing to lose, like the same way she [Dominika Cibulkova] was today. She has nothing to lose. Me, I know I have a chance and I want to win it."
Safina was broken in the opening game by Cibulkova, the 20th seed, but quickly claimed control when she broke back in the next game. Safina won in straight sets: 63 63.
"Once I was down I started to play better," Safina began. "But I think still I have to be much more dominant on the court."
Cibulkova, for all her athleticism and scrambling, didn't do enough to knock Safina off her game. The diminutive Slovakian got caught up in the pressure of the semifinal. Her mental strength, which is normally tough and sharply focused, failed to spark her on.
"I would say that from my side it was a really nervous tennis," Cibulkova said. "It was really tough to play today out there."
Cibulkova failed to move Safina around the court, which would have been to her advantage. Instead, she played safer shots that reflected her nervousness. In previous matches she was able to produce more acute angles with the ball, stretching opponents wide, which opened up chances for winning shots.
"I was planning to serve better, and to make pressure with the return," she said. "But, today I was just standing so, so far from the baseline and I couldn't do anything. She was making the pressure."
Although Cibulkova didn't win the semifinal match, she did make history. She is the first woman from Slovakia to play in a Grand Slam semifinal. It was also her first major semifinal.
Dinara Safina will face fellow countrywoman Svetlana Kuznetsova on Saturday for an all-Russian final, after she defeated Samantha Stosur 64 67 (5) 63, in the second final of the day.
This was Samantha Stosur's first-ever singles semifinal in a Grand Slam; and, it was the first time in twenty years that a woman of Australian origin had gone this deep into a Grand Slam.
Stosur is more known for her doubles play, than singles. She won 22 titles partnered with Lisa Raymond of the United States, which included the 2005 U. S. Open and the 2006 French Open. Stosur was sidelined from July 2007 to April 2008 year with Lyme disease, an infection derived from a tick bite. Her comeback this year is a result of hard work and determination.
"I've played big matches before -- a quarterfinal just yesterday, and Grand Slam doubles finals and mixed finals," Stosur began. "Every day you don't necessarily know what to expect, but I thought I handled the occasion really well. I felt really good out there physically and mentally, and gave it my best shot."
For the first half of her match, Stosur looked unsure and perhaps a bit nervous. She didn't unleash any big serves until the end of the second set when she pulled even with Kuznetsova, after having been down a break and within six points of losing the match. Stosur went on to win that set in a tiebreak, but when she got down a break in the third she couldn't turn the match around.
"You go a break down in the third, it's not easy to try and get it back."
Kuznetsova rallied in the third, showing grit and determination. She certainly didn't want to play the last set. Her quarterfinal match from yesterday went just under two and a half hours. Tomorrow she will rest.
"I'm a little bit tired. But, you know, it's a lot of nerves and emotions," she said. "I'll be fine. Tomorrow I have day off, so it's great."
Dinara Safina and Svetlana Kuznetsova have played each other thirteen times. Safina leads 8-5. The last two times they played was this year on clay. Dinara won in Rome. Kuznetsova won in Stuttgart. She is the only person to have defeated Safina on clay this year.
"She's going to be favorite to win," Kuznetsova said. "She's number one. She played an unbelievable season. There are some points I can work on and think positive for myself. I have to move her around definitely. But I have just to work my game."
And from Safina, "Well, I think it's going to be just great, you know. I think it was 2004 when it was all-Russian finals, so just -- it's going to be great. I want to go out there and play my game."
Earlier Columns from this Event:
June 3, 2009 French Open Coverage: As The Clay Settles
June 2, 2009 French Open Coverage: And The Hits Just Keep On Coming
June 1, 2009 French Open Coverage: The Vacuum Left by Nadal
May 31, 2009 French Open Coverage: Both Defending Champs Out At French Open
May 30, 2009 French Open Coverage: Draw Opens as Djokovic Falls In Three
May 29, 2009 French Open Coverage: What's Up With All That Noise!
May 28, 2009 French Open Coverage: The Shifting Clay of Roland Garros
May 27, 2009 French Open Coverage: The Heart of a Champion
May 26, 2009 French Open Coverage: American Women in Paris
May 25, 2009 French Open Coverage: Sharapova Fights On, Nadal and Federer Cruise
May 24, 2009 French Open Coverage: Bienvenue au Paris