The third time wasn’t the charm for world No. 1 Dinara Safina, who choked her way to an 0-3 career record in Slam finals on Saturday at the French Open, losing 6-4, 6-2 to fellow Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova.
Safina, who was dominating en route to the final, again let the occasion get the best of her.
“It was the pressure I put on myself because I really wanted to win,” Safina said. “I just didn’t handle it. I was a little bit desperate on the court, and didn’t do the things that I had to do. Didn’t stay tough mentally.”
The mental toughness came from an unlikely source, Kuznetsova, who is used to doing the double-handed throat clutch, winning the US Open in 2004 but losing in three other Slam finals.
“I came out there and said, ‘Everything’s great,’” she said. “I’m just doing my thing I love. I’m enjoying. It’s my passion, what I’m doing. It’s my job. And I cannot ask for more.”
Safina regularly looked to her coaching box is desperation while Kuznetsova needed no such support, moving the lanky Safina side to side and up and back at will.
“This is finally my trophy,” said Kuznetsova, a former French runner-up. “I’m really happy, and nobody one can take from me. I have won Roland Garros and I have won US Open. I have it now.”
Safina looked on the verge of tears in the last few minutes on court, smashing her racquet after the loss.
It was a major confidence turn-around for Kuznetsova, who had won only six of 21 tournament finals since capturing the 2004 US Open.
“It’s been very tough times for me, especially before French Open last year,” she said. “I lost in Rome and I left to Moscow and my coach was not happy about it. I said, ‘I don’t want to train. I don’t want to think about it. I don’t want to go back to Spain.’ I said a few times I want to quit playing tennis. I never felt it. I said to Marat [Safin], ‘I don’t know, maybe I should not play.’ He said, ‘You are crazy or what? You have unbelievable opportunities. You just have to play.’”
At the Beijing Olympics, Kuznetsova shyly tapped Roger Federer’s shoulder for advice.
“He was looking at me and said, ‘What do you want?’ It was big because I knew once he said he likes my tennis. I didn’t believe it. I was talking to him about the problems I had. He was listening, and I said, ‘Look, I want to move from Spain. I want to go to Russia, I don’t know what to do. He said, ‘Look, you can only depend on yourself. You can control it. If you can concentrate and live in Moscow, do this. If you cannot, only you can judge.’ I came back to Moscow and I worked hard. I had time to do everything. I had my passion, my friends, I am in my home country. I’m very patriotic. I love being there. This is the moment it turned, because I started to work hard.I let it go. I said, ‘Whatever happens, I just do whatever I feel doing. I gave my best.’”
Her best during the past fortnight will bring Kuznetsova back into the Top 5. World No. 2 Serena Williams, who before the French boasted she was the real No. 1 in the world, during the French begrudgingly told the media that Safina is the true No. 1, and no doubt smirked at the outcome of the championship round.
The younger Williams sister, after losing to Kuznetsova, explained how she handed the win to the Russian out of her own ineptitude rather than the Russian “winning” the match.
Not one to slag off fellow players, Kuznetsova says she will continue to simply concentrate on her game and her new mental outlook. You could also throw in a possible run for her turn at the No. 1 ranking by year’s end. Because she’s no fluke.
“This is big,” she said. “Didn’t happen just by luck. To have two Grand Slam trophies, it’s big.”
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