Reuters - Dinara Safina overpowered her fellow Russian
Vera Zvonareva 6-3 7-6 on Thursday to join Serena Williams
in the final of the Australian Open.
The combination of Safina's heavier shot-making and
aggression proved too much for Zvonareva as the third seed
closed out victory in one hour and 46 minutes under a closed
roof at the Rod Laver Arena.
Safina won four games in a row to take the opening set
after trailling 2-3 then broke Zvonareva's brittle serve to
force the tiebreak after the seventh seed blew her chance to
force a deciding third set.
Safina, 22, reached the French Open final last year but is
now on the verge of a first grand slam title after rebounding
from a shaky start to the tournament to produce her best
performance when it mattered most.
The winner of Saturday's final will recieve an added bonus
of taking over the world number one ranking from Serbia's
Jelena Jankovic, who was knocked out in the fourth round at
Melbourne Park this year.
"Since I was growing up it has been my dream one day to be
number one," Safina said in a courtside interview.
"To play against Serena and to fight for the number one is
just going to be unbelievable.
"I just hope it will be a good match that we can all enjoy
and whoever wins, we'll shake hands at the end of the match and
say 'well you deserve to be number one'."
Safina is also trying to complete a unique family double in
Australia by emulating her older brother Marat Safin, who won
the men's singles title in 2005.
"I watched my brother on TV winning this tournament and
even when I watch it now I have tears in my eyes," Safina said.
"It is great that I can follow his footsteps because he was
my idol and he is still my idol. That I'm doing as well as him
is just amazing.
"It was his birthday two days ago, maybe I have earned some
money to buy him a gift."
Safina had struggled throughout the tournament, surviving
two match points in an extraordinary comeback to beat French
teenager Alize Cornet in the fourth round, but was at her best
She still committed a whopping 42 unforced errors but there
was no repeat of the lapses in concentration that plagued her
in the early rounds.
Zvonareva, who had won all her previous matches in straight
sets, made a nervous start to her maiden grand slam semi-final,
double-faulting on the second point of the match to concede her
opening service game to love.
The 24-year-old Muscovite steadied herself to comfortably
hold her next service game then started attacking Safina's
serve, which was starting to show signs of vulnerability.
Zvonareva broke back to level at 2-2 then held again to
lead 3-2 before Safina seized control, cutting down on her
errors and putting the pressure back on her opponent.
Safina, who has shed seven kilogrammes in the last year and
showed off her new figure in a canary yellow shirt and black
skirt, reeled off the next four games to wrap up the opening
set in 39 minutes off a Zvonareva backhand error.
Zvonareva, dressed in a more conservative all-white dress,
broke Safina's serve in the fifth game of the second set but
failed to capitalise on her advantage.
She dropped her next service game and her frustrations
started to boil over when she disputed a line call with
American chair umpire Lynn Welch then slapped the ball away in
Zvonareva had the chance to force a third set when she
broke in the 11th game but failed to hold and lost the tiebreak
and the match on a crosscourt forehand winner from Safina.