U.S. Open 2009: Safina's Unemphatic Victory Proves Her End As No.1 Is Near
At approximately 3:15pm, Eastern Standard Time, world No. 1 Dinara Safina smacked a forehand winner with three match points, effectively completing her third-set comeback against 18-year-old Australian Olivia Rogowska.
Safina had been down 3-0 and 4-2 in the set, but closed the match out with four consecutive games.
Chances are, that most spectators who paid for admission to Arthur Ashe Court had no idea who Rogowska was. Ranked at number 167 in the world and entering her first-ever main draw at a Slam, it's hard to blame them.
Even less likely, they all most likely expected a score line of about 6-3, 6-2 in favor of Safina, and then they would get to see the more competitive skirmish between Novak Djokovic and Ivan Ljubicic.
They were in for a rude awakening.
Rogowska made her intentions perfectly clear when she snatched a tiebreak from Safina in the first set, throwing the world No. 1 into a challenging scenario in the first round. She was effective on serve, when she landed her first serve in. She also excelled when given an opportunity to break Safina.
But the second set brought the crowd back to reality. Safina won incredibly easy, at 6-2. The score that everyone expected to see from a top-ranked player. Safina cruised, grabbing all three break point chances she saw, while cutting down on double faults and unforced errors.
Heading into the final set, you could have placed a magnet in front of Safina's compass and it still would have pointed to a second-round berth for the powerful Russian.
But once again, Rogowska defied the odds, overcoming her own emotions to grab a 3-0 lead in the final set.
Could she see the finish line? Could she honestly pull this off? As everyone knows, no No. 1 seed has ever fallen in the first round of the U.S. Open. Why would that trend change any time soon?
Safina's legs were made of cement. And she was playing in quicksand to make it worse. But somehow, some way, she managed to claw back and tie the set at four games each. And those errors.
After Safina "broke" serve for 5-4, she would have the opportunity to serve it out. Extra emphasis on the word broke, because it really had nothing to do with her. Rogowska had literally handed over her last two service games, hitting double faults on two game points.
But what 18-year-old wouldn't face some incredible nerve, playing her first Slam on Ashe Court against the best player in the world?
It came to a merciful end at 3:15.
Some ugly tennis; 113 total unforced errors, 24 combined double faults, 15 service breaks.
In the end, it wasn't the player who could hit the last winner or ace. It was the player who shot themselves in the foot the least amount of times.
And yet, the main story here is not about Rogowska's near upset.
To be honest, Rogowska will improve and take an awful lot from the experience of playing on Ashe Court. The young Australian earned her place in the main draw and played inspired tennis for most of the afternoon. Nearly everyone watching expected to be able to count the number of games she won all match on a single hand.
A lot more tennis fans suddenly know her name. Olivia's effort will not be forgotten anytime soon either. But it isn't for her own play. It's because of the nail she hammered.
Dinara Safina had three nails in the metaphorical coffin of her number one ranking already.
After falling in the French Open final, she struggled through the last few rounds of Wimbledon before being annihilated by Venus Williams in the semi-final. Afterwards, her summer has been marked by disappointments, crashing out of Toronto and Los Angeles before the quarter final stages.
In fact, her only tournament victory came immediately after Wimbledon, when she defeated Sara Errani in Portoroz. Let's be honest: does that sound like a stroll in the park or what?
But never fear, Safina was handed the No. 1 seeding at the U.S. Open, despite hardly deserving it.
Now in the first round, assisted by an 18-year-old, the end of a run has come for Safina. She has now proven on countless occasions that she is not fit enough or good enough to be a number one seed in a major tournament.
Her fitness level is poor, at best. This is hardly the first time she has looked incredibly sluggish in a three-set match. That leads to many errors and ultimately to self-doubt.
But it is tough to put all of the blame on her. Her coach, Zeljko Krajan, could not have been any less supportive throughout the duration of the match. Not only that, but it could easily be said that he is a major reason why Dinara is always so down on herself.
In an unemphatic victory, Safina however still proved that come the 2010 Australian Open there will be a new number one seed.
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