Thursday, September 3, 2009

In Defence of Dinara

There are three players in the women's top ten who are widely considered to be Slamless wonders - Jelena Jankovic, Elena Dementieva and Dinara Safina. Elena's been around for about 7957934875 years and though she's reached the odd final, she's never taken the prize. Jelena made the US Open final last year and has been ranked #1, but no cigar. Dinara is the current #1 and has made three finals, but has only ever come away with the cookie tray.

All three players - maybe Dementieva a very little less, but certainly Jankovic and Safina, as they've both spent considerable time ranked #1 - are thought to need a Slam to validate their careers. And Safina, given as she's crumbled in three Slam finals and is the current #1, is bearing the brunt of that pressure at the moment, but you can bet the other two feel it as well.

Everyone's been ragging on Dinara Safina this year. Why is she #1? they ask. She has no spine. She crumbles in finals. She relies too much on her coach, who is the captain of her anti-cheer squad. Bitch bitch, moan moan. I read an article yesterday called 'What Makes A Champion? Don't Ask Safina'. She may be #1 at the moment and the #1 seed, but no one is picking her to win this tournament. Dementieva and Jankovic would both have been picked above her.

All three of these players played today. Two lost, one won. And guess who it was that won.

Dementieva lost, rolled over by American teenager Melanie Oudin on Arthur Ashe. And then right after her, Ashe saw Jelena Jankovic go down in a third set breaker to Yaroslava Shvedova.

Safina struggled. She went three sets against a player which her ranking states she should beat easily, Kristina Barrois. Similarly, she came heartbreakingly close to losing to young Aussie Olivia Rogowska in the first round. And everyone's picking on her for not playing that well.

But you know what no one's picked up?

She still won.

She was down a break and nearly a double break in that final set against Rogowska. And sure, Rogowska was nervous, and is not yet the player Dinara is, but Dinara stuck it out. She didn't give up, which must surely be tempting at that point. She held her nerve. She gritted it out. And she won.

She's not playing that well at the moment. I'm not going to deny that. Her serve is all over the place and she's missing shots she should make. But that can be fixed. She can play her way into this tournament. As long as she gets that W on the board, that's all that matters. Because there is one thing that has not deserted her, and it's the thing that has left her in the past on the big stage.

She hasn't lost her steel.

When she started coming up in '08, when she had that big win in Berlin and made the final of Roland Garros, that was what got her there. It was her determination, the 'you'll have to shoot me to win' mentality. And when she's been in the Slam finals, that's what's left her - most evident in that 'why am I such a chicken?' moment at Roland Garros this year.

But right now? She's playing bad, and she's still finding a way to win. And that, I feel, says something very important about Dinara Safina. That is the quality of a champion.

Roland Garros this year, when she made the final, she pretty much cruised there. If she makes it to the US Open final this year - and with Jankovic and Dementieva out of her section, her chances are improving - she will have had to fight to get there. I'm not saying she'll win it - but I bet that she'll show up.

So while most everyone else is condemning her, I still believe in Dinara Safina. Her brother yesterday came out vociferously in her defence and I back him up 100%. Dinara does have what it takes. Because she loves the game and she's got grit - and there's fight in here, and if nothing else, that is what she has brought to the table this tournament.

So there it is. I am a Safina believer. And I think she just might do me proud.

Today's Results

US Open (Flushing Meadows)

Men's Draw

Nikolay Davydenko def. Jan Hernych, 6-4 6-1 6-2
Fernando Verdasco def. Florent Serra, 6-3 6-0 6-3
Robin Soderling def. Marcel Granollers, 2-0 retired
Tommy Robredo def. Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, 6-2 4-6 6-2 6-4
Tommy Haas def. Robert Kendrick, 6-4 6-4 7-6 (7-3)
Sam Querrey def. Kevin Kim, 7-5 6-7 (6-8) 6-4 6-4
Jesse Witten def. Maximo Gonzalez, 6-7 (3-7) 6-4 7-5 6-2
Marco Chiudinelli def. Mikhail Youzhny, 2-6 7-6 (7-4) 6-4 6-3

Women's Draw

Dinara Safina def. Kristina Barrois, 6-7 (5-7) 6-2 6-3
Melanie Oudin def. Elena Dementieva, 5-7 6-4 6-3
Yaroslava Shvedova def. Jelena Jankovic, 6-3 6-7 (4-7) 7-6 (8-6)
Svetlana Kuznetsova def. Anastasija Sevastova, 6-4 6-2
Caroline Wozniacki def. Petra Marticm 6-1 6-0
Nadia Petrova def. Julie Coin, 6-4 7-6 (7-3)
Sara Errani def. Patty Schnyder, 7-5 6-2
Zheng Jie def. Alize Cornet, 1-6 6-3 6-3
Anastasia Rodionova def. Sabine Lisicki, 6-3 3-6 7-5
Sorana Cirstea def. Stephanie Dubois, 6-4 5-7 6-4
Gisela Dulko def. Alona Bondarenko, 6-4 6-0
Yanina Wickmayer def. Peng Shuai, 2-6 6-1 6-4
Kateryna Bondarenko def. Shenay Perry, 6-1 6-1
Petra Kvitova def. Tathiana Garbin, 6-1 6-3

No comments: