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Sunday, Sept. 21, 2008

Safina overpowers Petrova in semis, awaits all-Russian final


Staff writer

Dinara Safina turned in a brutal display of power tennis Saturday to annihilate Nadia Petrova and set up an all-Russian final against Svetlana Kuznetsova in the Toray Pan Pacific Open.

Safina went into the match having never beaten Petrova in five previous attempts, but soon set the record straight as she bludgeoned her way to a 6-1, 6-0 victory in just 52 minutes at Tokyo's Ariake Colosseum.

After struggling to overcome Estonia's Kaia Kanepi on Friday night, Safina looked like a completely different player as she gave an 'almost perfect" semifinal performance.

"Today I really wanted to step up," she said after the match. "Everything was almost perfect, and I was really playing my game from the first point.

"I had so many close matches against Petrova and I didn't close them out. Every time there was something missing.

"I was trying really hard to beat this, and I went out on court with the strategy just to hit the ball as hard as I can and play my game."

Safina said her quarterfinal against Kanepi, where her frustration at letting her opponent draw a set level manifested itself in a smashed racket, gave her the ideal preparation for Saturday's match.

"Sometimes it happens that one day you have a tight match and then you wake up," she said. "It was a good wakeup call for me."

World No. 7 Kuznetsova booked her place in the final after seeing off a strong challenge from Slovenian qualifier Katarina Srebotnik to advance 7-6 (7-5), 6-2 in the day's other match.

Kuznetsova battled back from 4-0 down in the first-set tiebreak to take the lead, then shook off an early wobble in the second to earn a chance to avenge her French Open semifinal loss to Safina in Sunday's final.

After a difficult start to the year, Kuznetsova is gaining momentum after helping her countrywomen retain the Fed Cup last week in Spain.

"I wasn't playing well, but I did well at the Fed Cup and it has given me a lot of motivation," she said.

"I am trying to do my best and it is hard because I feel tired, but the game is going well for me and I am really excited to be on the court."

Safina played down the importance of facing her compatriot for the title, one month after losing to fellow Russian Elena Dementieva in the final of the Beijing Olympics.

"It's just another match," she said. "We know each other very well and I hope it will be a great match that we can both enjoy. At the end of the day when we shake hands, whoever wins will deserve it."

Srebotnik started against Kuznetsova where she had left off in her quarterfinal win over world No. 4 Dementieva, ripping a cross-court forehand winner to break the Russian's serve immediately and firing in an ace on her first attempt.

The lead changed hands several times before Kuznetsova eked out the set in the tiebreak, and the former U.S. Open champion admits she will face an uphill struggle against Safina if her service game does not improve.

"I don't have lots of expectations for my service," she said. "Sometimes it goes well but sometimes it doesn't. Let's hope I can do well tomorrow, because if I serve well it helps me out and I don't have to fight the points."

Srebotnik was left to rue the opportunity she let slip from her grasp in the first set.

"I think I had my chance at the first set in the tiebreak and I missed it," she said.

"After I lost the first set Svetlana played better, and I probably dropped my level a bit.

"It was still a good match but today my legs felt a bit tired and maybe I didn't play at my best like before. But I'm happy with my performance here this week."



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