Russian women final
By Howard Fendrich
PARIS — Dinara Safina cursed at herself in English, muttered to herself in Russian and generally carried on in much the same manner of older brother Marat Safin.
Safina's face bears a striking resemblance to Safin's, and she shares his broad shoulders, too. Both have been ranked No. 1 — the only brother-sister combo to do so — and now Safina is one victory from joining Safin as a Grand Slam champion.
Yearning to justify her ranking and live up to her bloodlines by winning a major title, the top-seeded Safina overcame a poor start yesterday and held her temper in check enough to beat No. 20 Dominika Cibulkova, 6-3, 6-3, and reach a second straight French Open final.
"I'm trying to control my emotions," Safina said. "I'm not playing my best, but still, it's not easy to beat me."
Not lately. Safina has won 20 of 21 matches since rising to No. 1 in April. The only woman to defeat her in that span, 2004 U.S. Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, will get another crack at Safina tomorrow in the third all-Russian major final in tennis history.
The seventh-seeded Kuz-netsova seemed well on her way to an easy semifinal victory, but she stumbled a bit before getting past No. 30 Samantha Stosur of Australia, 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-3.
"She's going to be favorite to win," Kuznetsova said, looking toward her match with Safina. "She's No. 1. She played an unbelievable season."
Safina holds a 7-4 career edge over Kuznetsova, including a win in last year's French Open semifinals. The two go back about a decade, to age 12 or 13, when Kuznetsova was living in St. Petersburg, and Safina in Moscow, where her father was the director of a tennis club and her mother was a coach who started Safin on his way to titles at the 2000 U.S. Open and 2005 Australian Open.
"I had no chance playing against her. I remember, I lose to her 6-1, 6-0 or something," Kuznetsova said. "She was very good then, and then her brother was huge. I was coming to Marat, 'Hey, I know your sister, Dinara. Can you give me autograph?' "
In the men's semifinals today, No. 2 Roger Federer plays No. 5 Juan Martin del Potro, and No. 12 Fernando Gonzalez meets No. 23 Robin Soderling.
Federer is trying to win his first French Open championship to complete a career Grand Slam and tie Pete Sampras' record of 14 major titles. Federer lost to Rafael Nadal in the past three finals at Roland Garros, but the Spaniard is no longer around after falling to Soderling in the fourth round.
"At this stage, I expected I would be in semifinals," Federer said, "but I was not expecting Rafa to be out before the semifinals."
The women's semifinals figured to be mismatches: Neither Stosur nor Cibulkova had been past the fourth round at any Grand Slam tournament until this week — and neither has won a singles title on tour.
"I was just lost on the court today," Cibulkova said. "I didn't manage it well."
Safina has won major semifinals before but never a major final, losing in straight sets to Ana Ivanovic at last year's French Open and to Serena Williams at this year's Australian Open.
Safina hears the voices of those who questioned the validity of a woman without a Grand Slam title topping the rankings.
"How much more proof I need to give the people that I think I deserve that spot?" Safina said.