Tension of top spot takes a toll on Safina

Dinara Safina's brain told her what her heart would not - that she needs a break from tennis.

updated: September 07, 2009 08:28 IST
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New York:

Dinara Safina's brain told her what her heart would not - that she needs a break from tennis.

The world number one from Russia, who cannot recall the last time she played without the extreme tension that wrecked her US Open, made a third-round exit from the year's last Grand Slam early Sunday after three matches of struggling.

"Everything is in the head because here everything knows how to do the right thing," Safina said. "It knows and it stops me."

Czech teen Petra Kvitova ousted Safina 6-4, 2-6, 7-6 (7/5) but it was the pressure of defending the top ranking she took in April that has been the true opponent Safina cannot overcome.

"There's a little bit of everything," she said. "Also just playing, playing, playing, playing, playing and not releasing at least sometimes just to work on something. Really, I don't have even time for myself to relax and to calm down.

"If I go to practice, it's because there's like three weeks. There's no off-season. I mean, I'm really looking forward to the off-season because first I'll have a rest and then at least I know I'm going to have five weeks that I can stay in one place."

Safina, 23, longs for rest with the same passion she chased the world's top ranking and Grand Slam titles, but she ascended to the top spot without picking up a Slam crown along the way.

It's the old story of being careful what you wish for because you might get it. Safina achieved her dream but lost the fire that she had along the journey. Instead of something to win, she now has something to lose.

"I can't control when I lose," Safina said. "'Come on, do your things.' But I'm in too much not to lose a match. It's blocking me."

Safina cannot recall the last time she played without a crushing tension.

"It's not happening too often this year. I don't know," she said. "I go to the court with so much that I want to win, and I put so much tension in it not to lose and that's why I'm not playing relaxed, instead of just going out there and just playing."

Now she's so worried that she can't play her best to keep the top spot against foes like Kvitova she once would have routed.

"I go on the court and I really want to do one thing and I step on the court and I do completely the opposite thing," Safina said.

Safina is assured the top ranking ahead of second-ranked Serena Williams, the 11-time Slam champion who this year's Wimbledon and Australian Open crowns. But Safina said even losing the top spot would not allow her any relief.

"How can you be relieved if you lose the spot No. 1 in the world, your dream?"

The question Safina must face is how can she save her career without getting back where she once was.

"It's a positive thing that I'm playing. OK, here disappointing I lost. But basically every tournament I play till the end. So this is a positive," she said.

"But somehow I still not used to it and I guess I need a little bit some time to realize how it is and definitely next year I'll be more experienced and I'll plan better the schedule."

Safina shrugged off the notion of a psychologist, saying her faith and trust resides only in coach Zeljko Krajan to help her out of her funk.