Safina beats Cibulkova to reach French Open final

Dinara Safina shanked shots, endured a flurry of double-faults, screamed profanities at herself and still advanced to the French Open final.

updated: June 04, 2009 13:56 IST
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Dinara Safina shanked shots, endured a flurry of double-faults, screamed profanities at herself and still advanced to the French Open final.

The combustible Russian beat Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia 6-3, 6-3 in the semi-finals on Thursday and needs one more win for her first Grand Slam title.

It was a mistake-filled match, with the top-ranked Safina winning despite seven double-faults and 24 unforced errors.

Safina was runner-up to Ana Ivanovic last year at Roland Garros, and lost this year's Australian Open final to Serena Williams. Her opponent Saturday will be the winner of the second semifinal between Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia and Samantha Stosur of Australia.

Safina improved to 20-1 since she became No. 1 for the first time April 20. Her brother, Marat Safin, is a former No. 1 and two-time Grand Slam champion.

The family's notorious temper was evident on occasion in the semifinal. At least twice, Safina screamed a vulgarity at herself in English that TV microphones picked up, and an announcer apologized to the European audience.

Her language was cleaner when she shanked a backhand into the dirt at her feet.

"That was a great shot," she said.

Later in the same game, Safina misfired so badly on a first serve that she drove the ball into the clay in front of the net. She held anyway for a 4-2 lead in the second set.

Safina kissed the corner with a forehand winner to reach match point and closed out the victory when Cibulkova put a backhand in the net.

The match was played from behind the baseline, and it was into the seventh game before either played attempted a volley. Cibulkova found herself at a disadvantage in rallies because she often had to hit the ball above eye level, while high-kicking shots were right in the 1.82-meter (5-foot-11.5) Safina's hitting zone.

On a sunny, cool afternoon, Safina started slowly. She fell behind 2-love, then began to find the range and won five consecutive games.

She struggled to close out the set, sailing returns long on three successive set points, but converted on the fourth try with a booming forehand.

A lob winner over the 1.60-meter (5-foot-3) Cibulkova helped Safina earn the first break of the second set for a 3-2 lead, and she closed out the win despite some fitful moments.

Roger Federer is two wins shy of a career Grand Slam and a 14th major title, which would tie Pete Sampras' record, and he's 5-0 against his semifinal opponent Friday, the towering Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina.

Federer beat France's Gael Monfils 7-6 (6), 6-2, 6-4 on Wednesday after approaching the match with apprehension.

"We're all nervous at this stage of the competition," Federer said. "I felt it. ... I was tired, I was nervous, and I didn't feel really good. Then once out on court, I get my act together with the experience. I think, 'Things will be all right.'"

Some of the jitters resulted from the realization this may be his best shot at a French Open title.

Federer has been beaten at Roland Garros by Rafael Nadal the past four years, including the past three finals. Robin Soderling did Federer and the rest of the field a favor by upsetting the King of Clay in the fourth round Sunday.

No. 3-seeded Andy Murray and No. 4 Novak Djokovic have also been eliminated. Federer is a combined 26-1 against the other three semifinalists _ del Potro, Soderling (9-0) and Fernando Gonzalez (12-1). Against the trio, Federer has won 63 of 69 sets.

"It's also one of the reasons why I was nervous," Federer said, "because of the whole stories of Nadal losing, Murray losing, Djokovic losing maybe opening up the draw a little bit."

In Friday's other match, the No. 23-seeded Soderling will try to continue his improbable run against No. 12 Gonzalez. Soderling finds himself beyond the third round at a Grand Slam tournament for the first time, while Gonzalez is the first Chilean since 1960 to reach the Roland Garros semi-finals.