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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

All smiles as Safina goes far

Photo Titled Strong Safina
Dinara Safina shows her power during her quarter-final clash with Sabine Lisicki.

It is not often that both players can come off court smiling and looking on the bright side after a match, but this was the case when Dinara Safina defeated Sabine Lisicki in a quarter-final that ebbed and flowed and had the Centre Court crowd on the edge of its seat for nigh on three hours.

The Russian is the world No.1, but the weight of expectation on her is far lower on grass, where her less fluid movements prevent her from being a real threat unless her service is firing on all cylinders – which it certainly was not on Tuesday.

“Sometimes I don't do the things that I have to,” Safina said after a performance that included 15 double faults and 38 unforced errors. “Even if I'm doubting, I still have to do it, and it was a little bit disappointing because yesterday [when she defeated Amelie Mauresmo in the fourth round] was a good match, and today again I had a very slow start, like I'm playing only half of tennis until I'm down, and then I start to play better. This is what is disappointing - why I don't start from the beginning the way I was ending yesterday’s match.”

Safina endears herself to the press corps with a good line in self-deprecating humour – invaluable for someone who is trying to shake off the tags of “Marat’s little sister” and “No.1 without winning a Slam”. When asked if she was working specifically on the mental side of her game, she revealed a good line in dead-pan delivery. “If I did work, I would not serve 250 double faults today! It's just my brain sometimes doesn't do the things that I have to do,” she smiled, raising her eyebrows in acknowledgement of her occasional mental struggles.

There were, however, plenty of positives to take out of the match for both players. As far as Safina is concerned, anything beyond the fourth round on grass is a bonus, so a semi-final against Venus Williams is beyond her expectations. “Every day I [am] improving, I'm getting better playing here. If I play my best and she [Venus] plays the best, it's 50/50 who’s going to win the match. I don't think if I play my best tennis and she plays her best,that she's the favourite – I think I still have a chance.”

For Lisicki, there was no disappointment at coming so close to the semi-final of a Grand Slam at the tender age of 19 only to fade as the match wore on. “I had a great tournament. I think nobody expected it to happen, including myself,” said the German, who is set to rise to No.27 in the world based on her performance here. “Of course I'm sad that I lost today but I gave it all that I had and I fought hard. She was more experienced than me and she has already been to the second week of a Grand Slam, so she knew how to deal with it.

“I’ve learned how to play on grass. I know that I can play on grass now and that I don't have to be afraid of coming back next year and playing all the grass court tournaments. I'm actually really looking forward to it, because I really enjoyed my time being here.You know, I think it will be a good year next year,” smiled Lisicki, and few who have watched her progress over the past 10 days would disagree.

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