Drama Queens: Safina Survives, Ivanovic's Slam Season Ends in Tears in Loss to Bondarenko


FROM THE US OPEN, TUESDAY, SEPT 1. – The US Open kicked into full survival mode on Tuesday, with Dinara Safina nearly falling into her own rattlesnake pit before avoiding the death bites in a 6-7, 6-2, 6-4 win over Australian wildcard Olivia Rogowska.

There were a number of thrillers, including Ukrainian Kateryna Bondarenko fighting off match point and stopping
a tearful Ana Ivanovic 2-6, 6-3, 7-6 (6), and the aging Nicolas Lapentti taking a 4-6, 3-6, 7-6, 7-6, 6-3 shocker over No. 19 Stan Wawrinka.

Safina perhaps played her worst match of the year in victory (she committed 48 unforced errors) and barely avoided being the first top women’s top seed to lose in the first round of the Open. Outside of her willingness to fight regardless of the circumstances, it was a horrendous performance by the Russian, who was not only inaccurate, but consistently pushed soft balls down the middle against her junior foe, who played a gutsy match, but at this point, has nowhere near Safina’s talent.

But Safina simply isn’t comfortable in her own skin at this point and is hard pressed to make the right decisions. Because she’s willing to battle and because her game is fairly simple, she’s been able to keep her head above water, but in current form, or even slightly better than current form, she’s has no chance of winning the USO.

But she chose to take inspiration form her brothers Marat’s 2000 title run, when he was pushed to the wall early before he clubbed Pete Sampras to win the title.

“My brother, when he won U.S. Open, he almost lost to (Sebastien) Grosjean (in the third round). He won 7-6 in the fifth set,” Safina said “He had another difficult match against (Gianluca) Pozzi. So I remember he said he was struggling from the first round, but he made it. So maybe I’m following his steps this time. “In the French Open, I won all the matches (on the way to the final) 6-0 6-1. Did it help? Not really,” “God knows how I pulled it out… so hopefully from today on it’s going to get better.”

Safina says that despite having bad days, she’s still able to enjoy her tennis, because once she lays her head on the pillow, she can revel in victory. It cannot be easy to be the daughter of a tough minded tennis coach mother Raouza, the sister of loving yet critical brothet Marat, and the student of Zelijko Krajan, who rarely, if ever looks happy with her play and perhaps didn’t clap once in her favor on Tuesday.
“It happens that you have a bad day and you want to send everything and say, I hate everything,” she said. “But at the end of the day, you win the match even like this, I would say a little bit ugly. But you come in the hotel and you are like, I made it. Like at the end of the day, that counts. I made it. I pulled it out, and that’s what counts for me.”Even though she would prefer not to hear it, the introspective Safina is being hit daily with questions as to why she hasn’t won a major yet. There’s no way to avoid thinking about it, as she knows she’s good enough to do it, if she can stop pressing and perhaps if Krajan can lay off her for a few moments.

“Now that I’m No. 1, I want a Grand Slam. This is what is missing for me. I’m sure it will happen because I’ve been very close to winning I’ve been in the three finals, so just one step. Sooner or later, I will have to make it. If it happens (in New York), definitely it will be the best day of my life because it will happen here where my brother won it.”

Maria Sharapova looked quite good in her 6-3, 6-0 victory over Tsvetana Pironkova, whom she overwhelmed with vicious returns, with her fearsome forehand and occasional gutsy net rushes.. Sharapova will face US teen Christina McHale in the next round. The world’s most marketable player brought out a new black and silver dress inspired by the architecture of New York, and a set of earrings designed for her by the famous architect Frank Gehry. She’s calling herself someone who is capable of winning the title, even though her camp’s eyes are more firmly set on the Aussie Open. But perhaps they are underplaying her chances.

“Well, when I’m in the draw, I’m a contender,” said Sharapova, who is just one step away from facing Elena Dementieva a 6-1 6-2 over Camille Pin.

Ivanovic’s Tearful Season

While those two Russian flourished, poor Ana Ivanovic suffered another dramatic loss, this time to Kateryna Bondarenko. The Serbian held a match point in the breaker but couldn’t convert with her money shot, her once nearly perfect forehand, which failed her again and again in the end.

She knows that if she can’t deliver on that shot that she cannot win significant matches and now, she’s even having trouble against players she far better than. She badly needs a vacation, as she hasn’t had one all year and she was totally despondent after the match, with tears welling in her eyes talking about a season where she couldn’t even reach a Grand Slam quarter. Whether it’s her brain (she says she plays mind games with herself), her conditioning or technique, she’s nowhere near the player she was in June of 2008, despite her massive effort to make things right.

“It’s very disappointing,” she said. “ It hurts. I can tell you that. I’m sure I will have sleepless nights. But I have to accept it and try to put this year behind me, and try to learn from it. I’m sure next time, I have no doubt I have potential now to be back in the top. … Before my match I spoke to my coach, because I just said I feel like I constantly kept going and going. It’s really hard, because even though I had some time off, I was still doing like a little bit of fitness or rehab or something. So my mind was still in tennis. I feel happy that, this season, it’s going to be a longer off-season so I have longer time off and completely switch off and I haven’t had proper holidays in years. So I’m looking forward to that. “Other notable women’s winners were Zheng Jie, Shenay Perry, Jelena Jankovic, Nadia Petrova, Sabine Lisicki, Patty Schnyder, Alona Bondarenko, Caroline Wozniacki, Sorana Cirstea and Svetlana Kuznetsova.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga should by all rights be a contender here and had an easy first round victory over Chase Buchanan 6-0, 6-2, 6-1. He’s in the vulnerable Rafa Nadal’s quarter and if he can keep composed, focus and attack without becoming distracted, at least he should be able to reach the quarters and get a crack at Rafa, whom he stomped at the 2008 Aussie Open.

“I’m here to win, and to go to the next step,” said Tsonga, who upset Roger Federer in Montreal and will play Jarkko Nieminen. The next step for me is to be in the five best players in the world.”
Outside of some terrific US male victories, including Jesse Witten 6-4, 6-0, 6-2 shocker over the injured Igor Andreev, significant winners were Andy Murray, Fernando Gonzalez, Marin Cilic, Viktor Troicki, Tomas Berdych Fernando Verdasco. Ivan Navarro upset Ivo Karlovic.

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