the legend

joyful rogger fedder

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Solid Safina into second week

Photo Titled Safina backhand
Safina backhand

Top seed Dinara Safina overcame spirited early resistance from Belgian outsider Kirsten Flipkens to win 7-5, 6-1 and book her place in the fourth round for the first time at Wimbledon. While her serve was not always reliable, she dug deep to save four break points, and her returning by the end of the match was simply stunning.

Flipkens ousted No.30 seed Agnes Szavay in the first round, and with Nicole Vaidisova also going out in her opener, it meant that world number one and top seed Safina has faced opponents of descending rank as the first week has worn on. The Belgian had only won seven tour-level singles matches in her career – two of them this week – and the match was seen more of a guide to Safina’s mental fortitude as opposed to a real test.

Flipkens elected to serve and held the opener despite facing a raft of break points, and then the focus moved on to the Safina serve. The first double fault came as early as the second point, neither attempt threatening the net cord, let alone the service box, but after that she settled into a better rhythm for the first half of the set.

Her left knee is troubling her and requiring regular doses of pain-killers, and she is unable to push off from it as she would like on service, but this has led to her sacrificing a little raw power – a quality she has in abundance – in favour of more subtlety. That, along with a dose of plain old confidence, is what has prevented her from securing her first major.

The Belgian rode her punchy, serve and occasional volley-style throughout the first set and her deep, powerful returns even saw her carve out a break point in the eighth game, which Safina saved with a kicking second serve into the body, before serving out with an ace.

She had a second bite of the cherry two games later as the Russian’s radar went badly awry on the first service, but again she was unable to capitalise and missed the chance to pocket the set.

A tiebreak looked on the cards until Safina did what a top seed should, upping her game at the right time. Two wonderful backhands – one down the line, one cross-court – sandwiched a double fault and the Muscovite went from 30-40 to a break up at 6-5. The onus was then on her to serve out, and when Flipkens missed a volley with the court at her mercy that would have made it 0-30 in her favour, Dinara could even afford herself a rare wry smile.

Safina was on a roll, and took four games in a row to seal the first set 7-5 and pull away 2-0 in the second, helped in no small part by two double faults from Flipkens. A sea-change was never too far away, however, and she again faced a break point at 2-1. Her first point kicked up chalk-dust but on the wrong line, and after a wait for the Hawkeye challenge, she showed incredible fortitude in then firing an ace at 105 mph straight down the middle.

More deuces ensued. Dinara cursed, while her coach Zelkjo Krajan remained impassive. Flipkens ran around forehands and painted the corners with returns but Safina finally held to lead 3-1 with a volley at the net that seemed long but just clipped the baseline. Half-an-inch the other way and who knows how the set might have panned out, but now Dinara was brimming with confidence. She broke to love, held serve at a canter and then sealed the match with another break to give the score line a flattering look.

She will now face Amelie Mauresmo in the fourth round – a woman who, like Safina, ascended to the top of the rankings before winning a Slam. It will be a battle between the old and the new guard, between Dinara’s booming forehands and Amelie’s sliced backhands. An intriguing tie awaits.

Court 2 - Ladies' Singles - 3rd Round
Dinara Safina RUS (1)Winner76
Kirsten Flipkens BEL 51

No comments:

Post a Comment