Sunday, June 7, 2009

Marat key to Safina downfall

Australian Open 2009 - Previews

Dinara Safina must be ruing the day her brother talked fellow Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova out of quitting tennis.

Kuznetsova was at such a low ebb during the spring of last year that she contemplated retirement, at the age of 22.

Marat Safin, a leading player on the men's circuit, talked her around and just over a year on, she is the new French Open champion having beaten Safina - Marat's younger sister - with surprising ease yesterday in straight sets.

Kuznetsova is rejuvenated and ready to launch a new bid to become world number one for the first time. But it could all have been so different had she not decided to move training bases from Barcelona to Moscow.

"It's been a tough time for me," she said.

"I lost in Rome (in May last year) and I left for Moscow. I was saying I don't want to train, I don't want to think about it (tennis), I don't want to go back to Spain.

"I said a few times I want to quit tennis. I said it, but I never felt it.

"I said it to Marat a few times. I said, 'Marat, I don't know, maybe I should not play'. He said, 'Are you crazy or what? You have unbelievable opportunities, you just have to play'."

She ended up leaving Spain, after further advice from Roger Federer, at the end of last season and the decision has paid dividends.

Her strong clay-court campaign in 2009 ended with yesterday's win over top seed Safina.

Kuznetsova was the outsider coming into the match but after the first few games in cold, slow conditions on Philippe Chatrier court it became clear it was again not going to be big-hitting Safina's day.

Safina has now lost all three of her grand slam finals and her propensity to clam up on the big occasion is starting to become a serious issue.

She has lost two straight French Open finals as well as the Australian Open final earlier this year, all without winning a single set.

"Tomorrow is another day; I'll be fine," insisted Safina after her 6-4 6-2 defeat.

But deep down she will be furious at having passed up a great chance to authenticate her position as the world number one.

Kuznetsova, the US Open champion in 2004, has never been at the top of the rankings, but still has two grand slam titles in her collection.

Playing without fear and simply for enjoyment is bringing the best out of the 23-year-old, who admitted she can retire a happy woman having won her favourite two Majors.

"Everything's great. I'm just doing the thing I love - it's my passion and it's my job, this is it," she said.

"I cannot wish for more. I'm just looking forward to new battles."

Kuznetsova will climb from seventh to fifth when the new rankings come out, and can now head to Wimbledon with renewed hope of a first success at SW19.

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