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World number one Safina escapes early defeat

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2009-09-02

World number one Dinara Safina (photo) narrowly escaped becoming only the fifth top seed in Grand Slam history to lose in the first round as she battled three hard sets to oust Australian Olivia Rogowska, an 18-year-old wildcard entrant ranked 167.

AFP - World number one Dinara Safina barely escaped suffering one of the greatest upsets in Grand Slam tennis history before edging Australian teen Olivia Rogowska on Tuesday in the first round of the US Open.
  
The 23-year-old Russian top seed, still searching for her first Grand Slam title to justify her ranking, outlasted the 167th-ranked wildcard entrant 6-7 (5/7), 6-2, 6-4 after two hours and 35 minutes.
  
Instead of becoming the first US Open women's top seed to lose her opening match, Safina escaped from a 3-0 hole in the third set to reach a second-round match against either Poland's Urszula Radwanska or Germany's Kristina Barrois.
  
"I played 2 1/2 hours and I was down in the third set but I love playing here and I wanted to stay," Safina said.
  
Screaming with frustration at times, Safina nearly became only the fifth top seed in Grand Slam history to lose in the first round, the first since Martina Hingis was dumped by Spain's Virginia Ruano-Pascual at Wimbledon in 2001.
  
"I didn't break any rackets and I didn't get any warnings. That's already positive," Safina said.
  
The worst showing by a US Open top seed came last year when Serbian Ana Ivanovic lost in the second round.
  
Rogowska, an 18-year-old from Melbourne, would have been the second-lowest player in rankings to oust a top seed in any round of any Slam, 21 places above France's Julie Coin when she ousted Ivanovic from last year's US Open.
  
Reigning French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova shook off a slow start to advance, the Russian sixth seed ousting Germany's Julia Goerges 6-3, 6-2, and later saying that lumping Russians as "head cases" is unfair.
  
"Every Russian should get the respect. Everybody has their own problems," Kuznetsova said. "Dinara, she maybe has a real bad something missing in her game. I maybe have something missing in mine.
  
"That is the life, in and out of the court, for everybody."
  
Safina, 23, will stay atop the rankings after the Open regardless of how she fares in the Flushing Meadows fortnight, even if second-rated reigning champion Serena Williams takes her third Slam crown of the year and 12th of her career.
  
But her struggles to subdue unknown Rogowska simply reinforced the notion Safina does not belong at the top.
  
Safina, whose best US Open showing was last year's semi-final run, lost to Serena Williams at this year's Australian Open final, to Kuznetsova in the French Open final and to Venus Williams in a Wimbledon semi-final.
  
Rogowska, up 502 ranking spots from a year ago, beat Russian Maria Kirilenko in the first round of the French Open and almost pulled off a stunner for the ages to beat Safina.
  
Rogowska seized a 3-0 lead in the thrid set, the key point when her backhand down the line was overturned into a winner on a review challenge to break Safina in the second game.
  
Safina, who squandered four break points in the third game, fought off two break points to hold serve in the fourth and after an exchange of breaks was gifted a double fault break by the Aussie to pull within 4-3.
  
"I was like, 'Please just try to see the ball when you serve,'" Safina said. "That's why I didn't make a double fault."
  
Safina held serve, broke in an extended ninth game when Rogowska sent a forehand long, and held at love in the final game for a narrow escape.
  
Rogowska fought off a break point in the 12th game of the first set and swatted a forehand passing winner to force the tie-breaker, then saw Safina net a backhand and double fault on the last two points to surrender the first set.
  
Safina, whose 24 unforced errors in the first set were only three fewer than Rogowska, answered the challenge by breaking the Aussie upstart three times in the second set to force a third, each struggling to hold as tension mounted.
  
Kuznetsova, who won her first of two career Grand Slam singles titles at the 2004 US Open, next faces Latvia's 96th-ranked Anastasija Sevastova, who ousted Thailand's 90th-rated Tamarine Tanasugarn 6-3, 7-5.
  
Kuznetsova needed only 62 minutes to move on, winning 10 of the final 12 games and rescuing three break points in the second set to hold off 92nd-ranked Goerges.
  
"First match is always tough," Kuznetsova said. "It's very difficult when you don't know what to expect."
  
Kuznetsova, 24, and compatriot Maria Sharapova, 22, are the only prior Flushing Meadows champions in their half of the draw. Sharapova, the 2006 US Open winner, meets Bulgaria's 98th-ranked Tsvetana Pironkova in a night opener.
  
Other women's openers send Russian fourth seed Elena Dementieva, the 2004 US Open runner-up, against France's Camille Pin and Serbian fifth seed Jelena Jankovic, last year's US Open runner-up, against Italy's Roberta Vinci.

Date created : 2009-09-01

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