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Ivanovic hangs tough to set up Safina date

For once, Dinara Safina chose not to use up one of her ”many lives” on Thursday and swept into a French Open final against the new queen of women’s tennis.

Ana Ivanovic produced a scrappy, brittle and erratic performance but that did not stop her from ascending to the top of the women’s rankings following a 6-4 3-6 6-4 win over fellow Serb Jelena Jankovic.

Ivanovic may have fulfilled one of her childhood dreams by ending Maria Sharapova’s reign as world number one but she will be aware that top spot will count for little if she fails to win the claycourt crown at Roland Garros on Saturday.

”It was a tough match, there were lots of ups and down. I was just so happy to stay strong in the end and win the match, but it was a very tough one,” said Ivanovic, a finalist here 12 months ago and at the Australian Open in January.

Asked what her plans would be for the night after she blew a 3-1 lead in the final set, Jankovic joked: ”Kill myself?”

While Jankovic tried to comprehend another semifinal flop at a major, Ivanovic will be hoping it will be third time lucky.

To win the title Ivanovic will have to break the indomitable spirit of Safina, who reached her first grand slam final by overpowering fellow Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-3 6-2.

The younger sister of Marat Safin had staged two successive great escapes, coming from a set and match points down to beat Sharapova and seventh seed Elena Dementieva, to reach the semis.

It led to fourth seed Kuznetsova declaring: ”She has too many lives, so I have to be careful with her.”

But the 2004 US Open champion failed to heed her own words and became the third top-10 seed to fall under Safina’s spell.

”It was pretty horrible,” said a disgusted Kuznetsova, whom Justine Henin had picked as her successor to the title.

”I felt pretty bad out there, I could not give her fight because I was fighting first against myself and I cannot go further than that.”

Hot head
Playing a hot-headed rival who had spent almost five-and-a-half hours on court in her last two matches, Kuznetsova would have been expected to wear down Safina.

She had no such luck, however, and her normally reliable forehand crumbled. No matter what she tried, she shanked forehands wide, behind the baseline, and even into her own half of the court.

After the first set, which featured five breaks, Kuznetsova suddenly exploded in the fifth game of the second when she was down 0-15. She blasted the ball 12 rows deep into the stands, incurring a warning.

Such outbursts would normally be expected from Safina rather than her opponent but not on Thursday. The 13th-seeded Russian kept a lid on her emotions and sealed the greatest triumph of her career when Kuznetsova ballooned yet another forehand wide.

”At 5-2 I got a little bit tight but I thought no, no, no, otherwise I will go home. It feels amazing,” grinned Safina.

”But I’m still here. I won in straight sets so that’s strange for me. I didn’t expect I could get into the final. The less you expect, the more you get.”

The win also gave the Safin family a unique place in the record books. With Marat owning two grand slam trophies, Safina’s win on Thursday means Saturday’s final will mark the first time a brother and sister have appeared in grand slam singles finals.

Ivanovic had shimmied into the last four, dropping only 20 games en route. But her contest against Jankovic, in which the number one ranking was also on the line, was plain ugly.

Both players had honed their skills in a drained swimming pool back home in Belgrade but they might as well have been playing in a pool of water as they struggled to stay afloat.

Error after error was followed by break point after break point. With neither being able to assert her authority, both became tetchy and tested the umpire’s patience by dragging him down from his chair time and again to inspect the mark on the close line calls.

In the end, the statistics told their own story. With at least 30 break points in the match and 13 of them being converted, the first all-Serb grand slam semifinal will not be remembered as a classic.- Reuters 2008.

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