Safina making her own mark
Monday, 13 January, 2003
by Barry Levinson
With eight players currently ranked in the women's top 50, Russia is having a big influence on the WTA Tour.
Another bright Russian-prospect, 16 year-old Dinara Safina, is not in the top 50 yet, but it's likely to be only a matter of time - even if she doesn't think so herself.
Safina is the younger sister of men's world No.3 Marat Safin and shares her brother's trait of being quite self deprecating after a defeat.
Despite her tender years, Safina took her own world ranking up to No.68 last season, after less than a year on the WTA Tour.
Currently ranked at No.70, Safina had high hopes before her first-ever appearance at the Australian Open, heading into Monday's first-round match against Slovakian No.32 seed Katarina Srebotnik.
Watched on by her support crew, which included her mother and coach Raouza Islanova and famous brother, the Russian began well in the match on court 10, claiming the first set 6-3.
But after the conclusion of the first set, Marat left to hit the practice courts and the tide turned in favour of the higher-ranked Srebotnik, who went on to win the next two sets 6-3, 6-3 and claim the match.
Call it a coincidence, but Safina did not look quite as assured on the court after her brother disappeared. And despite the credentials of her opponent, the Russian was far from happy with her performance.
"I'm not playing very good right now," she said. "I don't have a lot of confidence and I'm not happy with how I played today." Asked what she needs to improve in her game, she replied: "Everything".
"I was practising really hard and I came here with the confidence and now I don't know. I've lost two first-rounds and I don't know what's happening. I'm playing not bad, but not enough to beat these players."
As well as losing in the first-round here, Safina was knocked out in the first-round of last week's Canberra Women's Classic by world No.46 Laura Granville of the United States, also in three sets.
Safina is a tall girl (1.82 metres) and possesses a high bouncing serve and powerful groundstrokes, not unlike her bother. However, she herself doesn't believe that their games are very similar now, although she would like them to be.
"We have different games," Safina concluded. He plays much more aggressive than me. I'm trying to do it, but how I'm playing now, I'm playing so bad."
Safina did not make her debut on the WTA Tour until last April, when her ranking stood at No.404. Three months later, her ranking was already down to No.169 and she won her first title at Sopot in Poland, including a victory over current world No.15 Patty Schnyder.
But the Russian believes that being able to maintain her ranking this year will prove more difficult than making her way up the list last year.
"I was playing good last year. Because it was my first year I didn't have to defend anything (ranking points) so that's why I was going up. We'll see this year, I don't know."
But her frame of mind at the time of our interview suggested she has modest ambitions for 2003.
"This year, if I finish top 100, I'll be happy, because the way I'm playing, I'm not happy, so if I finish top 100, that will be a big relief," she said.
The brother and sister were always going to be tennis players. Aside from their mother being a tennis coach, their father is the director of a tennis club in their native Moscow. And the youngster is quite happy forging a career for herself on the courts and can't imagine herself doing anything else.
Safina doesn't get to see her brother play very often. The Grand Slams are a rare opportunity for them to offer visible support to each other. And Safina thinks she can learn much from the way her brother plays and will be there when he takes to the court against the Netherlands' Raimon Sluiter on Tuesday.
"He's playing great. How he serves, the way he's playing, everything I like from him," she says.