June 6, 2009

Another Rematch

At least someone took my New Year's resolution for them seriously!

Of course that means that someone else has to wait at least a few more weeks before she can do the same.

Dinara Safina came to the French Open ranked #1 in the world for the first time at a Grand Slam. She'd won two titles in the weeks leading up to Paris and played an exemplary tournament, losing just five games in the first four rounds. She was only tested once during the fortnight, dropping one set to Victoria Azarenka before rallying through the quarterfinals.

On the other hand Svetlana Kuznetsova hadn't been having the most successful year before the clay court season began. Though she held firmly to her spot in the top ten by advancing well into tournaments, she hadn't won a title since New Haven in 2007. Though she had ended that year at a career-high #2 ranking, she'd since let compatriots like Dinara, Elena Dementieva and Vera Zvonareva all climb ahead of her. In a time when Russian women were dominating women's tennis, she'd become the lesser-known also-ran.

But when the 2009 European season began, both players seemed to hit their stride. Svetlana ended a long losing streak in tournament finals with a win over Safina in Stuttgart. That championship match was reprised in Rome, but this time went in favor of Safina.

It was only fitting that these two should meet for the title at Roland Garros.

It's not exactly the same caliber of the rivalry between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, but it is shaping up to be rather interesting. Both were playing in their second final in Paris, and Dinara clearly had the added pressure of trying to win her first Grand Slam trophy. She seemed determined to finally prove that she deserved the #1 ranking she'd claimed in April -- maybe too determined.

Svetlana had the harder road to the finals, having to beat three seeded players, including Serena Williams, in a row while Safina's only threat came from Azarenka. But though the top seed opened the match by breaking her opponents serve, she seemed to have trouble after that. Midway through the second set she showed signs that she might be buckling under the stress. Meanwhile Dinara's seven double faults -- the last coming on championship point -- certainly helped her opponent keep her cool.

After just over an hour, Svetlana Kuznetsova earned her second major title and reaffirmed her place among tennis's strongest women. It'll be interesting to see if she can keep up the momentum through the summer -- and if Safina will be able to regroup and get back on track to acheive her/my resolution!

Incidentally during her Paris run, Svetlana not only beat the #1 player in Safina, but also #2 Serena Williams in the quarterfinals. The last time that's happened was when Justine Henin took the crown here in 2003 after beating Serena and Kim Clijsters.

But Robin Soderling hopes it will happen again tomorrow as he faces second-seed Federer in the men's final. After taking out world #1 Nadal last Sunday, a win here would not only be Soderling's first Grand Slam title, but also one of the biggest coups in sports history.

Both players faced long semifinal matches to get here -- it took each of them five sets to dismiss their opponents, so neither is particularly well-rested. And while Roger has never lost to Soderling, the Swede seems to be playing a wholly different game these days.

You know tomorrow will be a match for the history books!

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