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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Safina fails to shine

Photo Titled Safe Safina
Safe Safina
If Dinara Safina is to make Wimbledon 2009 the place where she overturns the unhappy statistic of being the world number one without a Grand Slam title to her name, then she is going to have to play with significantly more authority than she could muster on No.1 Court today. A straight sets win is always handy, but Safina made hard work of her 7-5, 6-3 triumph over Spain’s Lourdes Dominguez Lino.

The first set took almost an hour, and unfortunately showed Safina at her most unconvincing. Perhaps the Russian simply needs time to find her feet on grass after the long clay court season. But then again she has never advanced into the second week of Wimbledon in six previous attempts, whereas she has made at least the semi-finals at all the other Grand Slam events.

The good news for Safina is that she cannot be dislodged from the number one spot whatever happens this fortnight. But her hopes cannot be soaring on this display.

True, she broke early, for 2-1. But the point that brought her the break was hardly a monument to tactical genius. Twice Safina smashed unconvincingly, leaving Dominguez Lino with various options to pass her at the net – only for the 28-year-old Spaniard to tap the ball back to her opponent obligingly on both occasions.

Safina had a chance to break again for 4-1, but Dominguez Lino saved it with an effective crosscourt backhand. Then, most unexpectedly, the Spaniard broke back, courtesy of a wild forehand and then a double fault from the number one seed.

Dominguez Lino – one of 10 siblings, no less – is a stocky player who rose to her highest ranking of 40 three years ago. Currently the number 72, she produced a career best Grand Slam result at Roland Garros last month by making the third round, but she had not been beyond the first round in three previous main draw appearances at Wimbledon, and today was to prove no better.

At 3-4 with serve, a pied wagtail decided to drop in on the action. The bird landed squarely in the middle of the netcord, obliging Safina to pause on her service at 30-all, before it flew away. The tiebreak looked a distinct possibility until at 5-5 Safina produced easily her best two successive points of the set – a winning drop shot and a solid backhand off a second serve – to break, and she took the set without further drama.

She broke at once at the start of the second, but not without unnecessary errors postponing what should have been an easy conversion.

The needless mistakes would not go away, and 23-year-old Safina seemed to spend every point either pumping her fist in self-affirmation, or wheeling away in frustration to berate herself on the baseline. A poker face is possibly not her greatest strength. She seemed to be getting into her stride with another break for 4-1, but handed it right back next game with a fluffed half-volley.
The pattern repeated itself with Safina struggling to serve out the match, until at last she closed it out after 101 minutes.

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