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October 28, 2009

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2009 WTA Sony Ericsson Championships
October 28, 2009
Editorial by Jane Voigt.


Jane Voigt Photo
Jane Voigt

Safina Retires From Doha
October 28, 2009 -- Dinara Safina retired from competition in Doha, Qatar, this evening after she failed to return what appeared to be a routine shot to Jelena Jankovic in the third game. As Safina walked to the baseline she broke down in tears, knowing well that her body wouldn't take any more. After shaking hands with Jankovic and waving briefly to the sparse crowds, the Russian headed for the locker room leaving all her bags and racquets courtside.
The Russian apparently suffered a back injury at Wimbledon, the news of which was kept in the Safina camp. Following the U. S. Open, Safina was supposed to have taken time off to recover. But after a week's brief respite she continued to play tournaments in Tokyo and Beijing.
Safina came into the Sony Ericsson Championships ranked number one. To keep her top spot, she had to fend off Serena Williams who trailed in second place in the WTA rankings by 150 points. But without having to fend off one stroke, Serena Williams now becomes the #1 player on the WTA tour.
Safina's early exit from injury speaks volumes about her year. The WTA's ranking system rewards consistent play rather than rewarding players who cherry pick their schedule and perform well at Grand Slams. Safina played 70 matches this year, doing well enough at the majority. She won 3 titles. She obviously, however, played too many in her climb to the number one position. Ironically she will end up #2, the same ranking she held at the end of 2008.
Just once it would have been pleasant to watch this talented Russian enjoy herself on court. From the warm-up through to the last ball struck, her brows were knitted tight, her strides deliberate and heavy, her mood alternating from hopeful to anxious and dark. She was intense, gritty and despondent. Like her brother Marat Safin, the littlest glitch could divert her energies from the simple task at hand - winning a point.
Her intensity served her well up to the final at Roland Garros, which she lost abysmally to Svetlana Kuznetsova. Her loss to Venus Williams at Wimbledon was another blow, although her remarks to the press brought wry laughter and brushed aside the challenge she would soon face as the hard court season moved forward.
Her serve became a joke during the summer. But her self-deprecating humor about it again disallowed us from understanding the depth of her struggles and desires to prove her greatness. Over the year she double faulted 391 times, the most of any player on tour. Elena Dementieva was second with 381.
Safina fared well in Cincinnati, placing second to Jelena Jankovic. A good finish for the Russian. In Toronto, Safina lost in the second round (she had a bye in first round) to Rezai ranked 47. Safina had double faulted 17 times. At The U. S. Open she lost in the third round to Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic, after holding three match points at 6-5 in the third set. Kvitova had failed to qualify at Cincinnati and Toronto. In Tokyo, Dinara lost her first match to a qualifier. In Beijing, she lost to a wildcard entry.
Silver linings aren't readily apparent after a storm. Safina's stormy finish could become a transcending moment of awakening, if she doesn't berate herself to the point of despair. With the WTA's concern for the length of a player's season, a revision of Safina's schedule could provide her with the opportunities she needs to progress and take care of her health.
Dinara Safina's departure here at the year-ending tournament opened the door for 9th ranked Vera Zvonareva, the first alternate. Instead of Safina facing Caroline Wozniacki on the purple court at the Khalifa Tennis and Squash Complex tomorrow, her countrywoman Zvonareva will battle the U. S. Open finalist. Hopefully Safina will be eating a few pieces of chocolate cake, her favorite indulgence.
The Matches From Day Two
If Caroline Wozniacki shows as much heart as she did today in her win over Victoria Azarenka, then Vera Zvonareva has a monumental task in front of her.
Wozniacki saved match points and came from a break down at the end of the third set to capture the match 16 64 75 in two hours and fifty-eight minutes. Earlier Azarenka's frustration over the raw tenacity of Wozniacki drew a warning for ball abuse. In the third set, after the Dane drew even at 5-games all, Azarenka blew her cool big time. Down 15-40 she smashed her racquet on the court, was quickly charged with a code violation and lost one point, which gave the game to her opponent. Wozniacki served an ace to punctuate the last point.
Caroline thanked the crowd for its support, in a short interview on court. She seemed lost when asked how she did it. How she managed to come from behind at the most crucial moment.
"I don't know what happened," Wozniacki said, quite honestly. She had made her way to the zone, road the wave and was beginning to wake up to the fact she had actually pulled out the victory. She had played the ball, not the score. She stayed present to every nuance of the moment, a sure sign of a champion.
Venus Williams would have liked to even the match record with her little sister Serena today, making a neat 11-11. But Serena hung tough per usual.
The up-and-down match wavered enough to make the outcome anyone's guess. Venus would play out of her mind, and then falter. Her serve became problematic. Then Serena would bear down, rip explosive returns of serve, knocking Venus off her rhythm. A game later Serena would relax, seem preoccupied, and lose her serve.
It wasn't until the last games of the third set that both women played their best tennis. Serena was up two breaks of serve and Venus battled back to win three games in a row. Score 6-5 Venus. Serena saved two match points to draw big sister into a tiebreak.
Serena seemed to have the edge. She served two aces and two unreturnable serves. But Venus wasn't finished. She came from a mini-break down and pressured the 11-time Grand Slam champion to play her best tennis, which she did when she sent an ace down the service tee -- her favorite spot to hit the big bomb.
Head-to-head match record: 12-10 Serena.
Williams was told immediately following the match, which finished after midnight in Doha, that she had clinched the number one spot. She said she was exited, although her voice sounded flat. She said she would pray for Safina and her injured back. Williams also said it would have been nice if the two could have played a final final on Sunday, making the coveted premier position a one-match affair.

Earlier Columns from this Event:
October 27, 2009 WTA Sony Ericsson Championships: Doha Day One

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