Serena Wins Fourth US Open

Serena Williams collapsed to the tennis court and then jumped for joy after she won her fourth US Open of her career yesterday. The 15th Grand Slam victory of her career wasn’t as easy as it seemed at the beginning, and Williams was actually two points away from losing her second-straight US Open final.

Serena dominated the first set of the matchup, winning 6-2, and breaking the serve of her opponent, 23-year old Victoria Azarenka, ranked #1 in the world, three times. It appeared that the 30-year old Williams would win the final easily, without losing a set to any opponent, something she also accomplished in 2002 on her way to the US Open title. But Azarenka stormed back to take the second set 6-2, to create the first US Open Women’s final to go to a third set in 17 years.

Williams and Azarenka traded breaks in the third and final set, and Azarenka was in control, up 5-3 and a break. At 30-30, Williams took over, holding serve, then breaking Azarenka to tie the set at five, then held serve again before converting a final break that crowned her the champion.

Serena talked about her opponent being two points away from handing her defeat after the match. “At 30-all I figured I could serve out and just make her serve for it…after that, I thought I could just force another game and obviously never give up. I never, never quit. I have come back so many times in so many matches.”

With her win, Williams becomes the first woman ever to win a Grand Slam title in three different decades. “That’s kinda cool” she responded, when asked about the accomplishment. Serena praised the play of her opponent. “You can tell by the score line that she really worked hard and she pushed me.”

Azarenka also had positive things to say about Williams. “She never gives up…she’s definitely the toughest player mentally there is. She continued, with an upbeat attitude. “I have to be positive, you know, because I feel like these kind of matches, every time I play Serena, it really pushes (me) to be better, to improve, to move forward. I have to be thankful to her for that.”

There were numerous entertainers in the star-studded crowd of 23,771, including tennis legends Billie Jean King and Boris Becker, New York Knicks forward Amar’e Stoudemire, New York Mets pitcher RA Dickey, actors Will Ferrell, Kevin Spacey, Stanley Tucci, Judd Hirsch, and James Caviezel, actresses Jennifer Connelly, Minka Kelly,and Vivica Fox, musicians Redfoo of LMFAO and Mandy Moore, supermodel Tyra Banks, and Vogue editor Anna Wintour.

Laura Robson, the Surprise of the Open

FLUSHING, NY – Move over Andy Murray, there’s a new Brit in town.

Laura Robson has become the feel good story at this Open, after she won her third round against Na Li, 6-4 6-7 6-2 to advance to the fourth round.

And this comes after she sent Kim Clijsters into retirement.

Call her the Giant killer.

“When the draw first came out I wasn’t really looking past the first round,” the 18 year-old said. “ And then, you know, when I heard that I was playing Li Na after I played Kim, I didn’t really think anything.  I just knew that it was going to be an extremely tough match, which it was, and that she’s a great player.

“So I knew I had to play well; that’s what I did.”

So far in 2012, Robson seemed to take a step back. After making the second round last year at Wimbledon and the Open, she was one and done at the other majors this year.

But that isn’t stopping her here.

She fought Clijsters in straight sets, 7-6(4) 7-6(5), in the second round, sending the three time US Open champion into full time motherhood.

And now she took down Li, who was seeded ninth at the Open and many expected to make the second week.

“I have had a fairly tough draw, haven’t I?” she asked with a smile. “Well, you know, you have to beat who is in front of you.  That’s what I managed to do so far.  I think I play [Sam] Stosur now, who is defending champ.  That’s going to be really tough.  I’ve never played her before, so, you know, I’m going to just work hard tomorrow and recover as best as I can for the next one.”

Ah yes, the defending champ. That would be a tough matchup, but they said that about Clijsters and Li. In today’s match, Robson easily took the first set and then lost a tie break in the second to give Li life, even though she was up 3-1 at one point in the breaker.

Then in the third, she took control with a 6-2 cruising, putting her on the map. The funny thing she never gets down on herself, which many 18 year-olds do.

“I’m only 18, so if I was that negative, you know, last year or a year ago, then who knows what I’m going to be like in a few years,” Robson said. “But, no, I have always thought that I can play with the top girls.  Whenever I’ve practiced with, you know, Caroline or Maria, I’ve always felt that the level was there.

“It was just taking that onto the match court and keeping the level up for the whole match.  That’s what I have worked on.  Yeah, that’s been the biggest difference.”

Well maybe Murray can give her pointers now on handling on the British press. Well on second thought, the way she took care of them today, she will do just fine.

Blake Makes It To The Third Round

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – Andy Roddick may be retiring, but James Blake is still going strong.

Actually, he’s better than strong, he looks downright deadly after today’s second round win over No. 24 seed Marcel Granollers, 6-1 6-4 6-2.

“Yeah, today’s match was one of the best matches I played in years I think,” Blake said.  “I served really well.  I took care of my serve.  I don’t think he had a breakpoint all match.  That doesn’t happen with me.  I’m not Andy Roddick.  I don’t go through matches like that that often, especially against a guy that’s 20‑something in the world that’s known to be a pretty darn good returner and very solid.

“I think that was a good testament to how well I was serving and how well I was taking care of my serve, which puts a lot of pressure on him, which is going to work out for me.  Any time I get to take chances to take rips on my returns, because I’m serving so well, I think it’s going to be a good matchup for me.”

Blake was able to take the match from the beginning with Granollers not able to handle the veteran’s serves. He looked strong and made very few mistakes.

He credits himself from being healthy and now playing his best tennis in years. In fact, if it wasn’t for this run, Blake may have had a presser today to announce his retirement.

“Everyone’s at different points,” he said.  “I’d say if this was going on three months ago, I might have had a different answer.  I might have been thinking a lot more seriously about it, too.

“It’s funny now, I feel like I’ve got sort of a youthful exuberance out there again.  My match tonight, I think a couple years ago, five years ago, six years ago, I would think this is a relatively routine win, get through it, get to the next round, thinking about that.

“I’m going to try to enjoy this.  I’m excited now.  It’s a lot of fun because I went through a pretty tough time.  With my knee injury and surgery, I really thought it might be time.  It might be time to call it a career.  Now that it’s not and I feel good again, it’s fun.

“It’s so much fun to keep getting better because for six months or so earlier this year, I didn’t feel like I was getting better.  I didn’t feel like I could improve or compete.”

Blake also credits fatherhood for giving him a new lease on life. With the birth of his new daughter, he now sees why life short and to enjoy everything every day.

“Fatherhood has been unbelievable,” he said.  “Now it’s tough to imagine it beforehand.  I didn’t expect it to be so great, so exciting so fast.  It was something where I think I was thinking about it, and I thought, I kind of want the kid to come out at two or three years old, walking and talking and stuff.  I didn’t realize the baby stage can be so much fun, when they fall asleep on your chest, when they’re cooing a little bit, thrashing around on their play mat.  Everything about it is so much fun.

“Now I can’t imagine life before Riley”

And we can’t imagine tennis without Blake. So hopefully he postpones his retirement for a number of years.

 

 

Raging Rafa Determined To Get The Career Slam

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – Just look in Rafael Nadal’s eyes and you see determination. The top seeded player on the men’s side knows this is his time and the career Grand Slam is there for the taking.

Maybe that’s why the 24 year-old was so serious this year when by taking Barcelona off and concentrating on winning the all elusive US Open title.

“I didn’t change a lot in my schedule,” said Nadal as he reached the Semifinals for the third year in a row by dispelling countryman Fernando Verdasco in straight sets 7-5 6-3 6-4. “My schedule just changed so I don’t play in Barcelona. So I am fresher because I know how important is the US Open and I’m fresher I think because I had to stop three weeks during the summer without tennis because I had to do a treatment on my knees.”

Whatever it is New York is seeing a determined player out there, who is trying to break the barrier and become a one of the few with four majors under his belt.

And so far, so good, but of course, Nadal has the hardest hill to climb with hard conditions on the court and of course the 400 lb gorilla in the room named Roger Federer.

Now, the wind is something every player had to endure and Nadal has come up aces in that area. He said it was difficult to play tennis tonight and even lost his serve during the third, but that didn’t stop a straight set win.

No it’s the matchup with Federer everyone wants to see, even Verdasco, who thinks the title will go back to Switzerland rather than joining the World Cup in his homeland.

“I think if I need to bet here, I will bet for Roger,” Verdasco thought. “I think that he won five times here and he likes these conditions.”

It’s true Federer has been playing as well as Nadal in this tournament. In fact, everyone – and especially CBS – is looking forward to a Federer-Nadal final, something that has happened in the other three Grand Slams, but never in Flushing Meadows.

Yet looking too far ahead is hard for the Spaniard, and for now, he thinks his longtime rival has the edge.

“Well, for sure Roger is the favorite of the tournament, especially because he won five times ‑‑ five times?” he said.  “And six finals in a row.  No one doubt on that.

“And I am in semifinals, so I don’t think about the final.  Everybody free to think, and what Fernando says is completely fair.  I hope keep playing well and have my chance in that match in semifinal.”

Nadal has a date on Saturday with 12th seeded Mikhail Youzhny, whom Nadal has a nice 7-4 record against the Russian, but  took his most recent loss back in 2008 in India.

So sure, the Spaniard has a right to smile these days, after two straight years in the Semifinals, Nadal is looking to take the next step. Back in 2008 he said he didn’t have the energy after playing so much that summer and lost to Andy Roddick and last year he ran into a steamroller Juan Martin Del Potro.

Now things have changed.

“This year,” he said.  “I think ‑‑ I know how important is the US Open for me right now, and I know I have to arrive to this tournament fresh if I want to have any chance to have a very good result.

“That’s what I tried.  I think I did.  I am at the right round without problems, so that’s very positive?  Right now remains the most difficult thing.”

And yes, you can see it in his eyes.

All-Star Matchup In The Semis As Federer Takes On Djokovic

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – In a match where timely shotmaking turned the tide time after time, Roger Federer fittingly rocked the court-side clock with one final authoritative ace to cap a 6-4, 6-4, 7-5 sweep of Robin Soderling and fly into the US Open final four for the seventh straight year. Continuing his quest to regain the US Open title he lost to Juan Martin del Potro last September, Federer will square off against Novak Djokovic in Saturday’s semifinals in their fourth consecutive Flushing Meadows clash.

It was a superlative serving performance from Federer, who ripped 18 aces and saved five of six break points in subduing Soderling. The fifth-seeded Swede had four break point chances at the outset of the match but could not convert and Federer picked up his serve considerably from that point forward.

“I think the serve was today the biggest key, because obviously he’s very famous for serving extremely accurate, extremely hard, over a long period of time,” Federer said. “That’s what makes him so hard to beat really. That wasn’t the case today.  He struggled to get the pace, the accuracy going, until midway through the third set when I think he started to hit it a bit better.  Then it was almost too late, really.”

The third-seeded Djokovic came to court with a dragon on his back, fire in his eyes and after an early mis-step found the swagger in his step in scorching a flat and floundering Gael Monfils, 7-6(2), 6-1, 6-2, to storm into the semifinals.

Hard court is Djokovic’s best surface. He can use his expansive reach to rip returns down the lines off both sides, he covers the court quickly and the speed of the Deco Turf adds some sting to his serve. Federer has won eight of his 12 meetings on hard court with Djokovic, but believes Djokovic is at his best on hard court.

“I think this kind of favors his play the most, kind of a faster hard court, because he can pick up some incredible balls, you know, half volley them, redirect them,” Federer said. “It helps maybe serve a bit more, and on the return he can, you know, zone in a bit, and all of a sudden he’s really tough to pass, you know, when he’s returning. That’s what makes him one of the best players in the game right now, and especially on this surface he’s obviously in the top 3 or 4.  That’s why he’s been able to play consistent here at the Open.  He’s obviously waiting for a breakthrough where he can win this title.”

Djokovic fell to Federer in the 2007 final and was victimized by Federer’s stupefying between-the-legs passing shot in last September’s semifinal. Djokovic said stylistically, the rivalry has not changed; he’s just hoping to reverse the result on Saturday.

“We do have more or less same game, you know.  Just maybe experience wise in my case I feel better now,” Djokovic said. “Physically I feel better than I did last year.  I feel stronger, faster on the court.  The conditions are quite different, so let’s see, you know.  Let’s see how this Saturday is gonna come out, you know, if we gonna have normal conditions or not.”

The second-seeded Swiss is 10-5 lifetime vs. Djokovic, including a 6-1, 3-6, 7-5 win in Toronto last month.

“Here we go again,” Federer said in anticipation of the latest installment of his rivalry with Djokovic. “He’s a great player. I got really lucky to get through there in Toronto and he’s obviously looking for the big break through here at the Open, so it’s gonna be a tough one.”

Though Federer has won nine of the 10 sets he’s played vs. Djokovic at the Open, the matches have typically been tightly-contested affairs, including the Swiss stylist’s 7-6(2), 7-6(4), 6-4 triumph in the 2007 final in which Federer fended off five set points in the first set and two set points in the second set, relying on his edge in experience, expertise in playing the the right shots on pivotal points, exceptional anticipation and a first serve that was sharpest in crucial stages to subdue the first Serbian man to contest major final.

Since his five-set win over Serbian Davis Cup teammate Viktor Troicki in the first round, the Djoker has won 12 consecutive sets and will enter the semifinals playing his best tennis of the tournament.

Opening the season by capturing his 16th career major championship in Melbourne in Australia, Federer suffered successive Grand Slam quarterfinal setbacks at Roland Garros and Wimbledon ending his reign in Paris and London and increasing speculation that Federer was more vulnerable in majors than ever.

On a drizzly day in June,  Soderling reigned a series of resounding winners across the red clay in overwhelming Federer, 3-6, 6-3, 7-5, 6-4 in the French Open quarterfinals to snap the World No. 1’s record streak of 23 consecutive Grand Slam semifinals. It was Federer’s first loss before a Grand Slam semifinal in seven years, ending one of the most hallowed record streaks in tennis history.

Soderling could not reproduced that form tonight, in part because the wind wreaked havoc with his high ball toss and because he has little margin for error on his flat strokes.

“I didn’t put so many first serves in as I needed to because of the wind,” Soderling said. “It was tough for me. So I could have needed some more first serves. Maybe I would have played better then.”

The lanky Swede did not hit an ace until the third set. To his credit, Soderling did not give up the fight as Monfils did in today’s first quarterfinal against Djokovic. He began to center his shots more and when Federer missed the mark on an inside-out forehand, Soderling broke for 5-3 in the third set.

The two-time French Open finalist could not capitalize on the break, putting a forehand into net as Federer broke back for 4-5.

Down 15-30 Federer benefited from a Soderling error to draw even then lured the big man forward with a drop shot followed by a forehand volley that rattled Soderling’s Head racquet. For all his prodigious power from the backcourt, Soderling is almost clueless at times at net and he screamed in frustration at himself as Federer eventually worked out a hold for 5-all.

Summer started with a struggle for Federer, who followed his French Open demise with a Wimbledon quarterfinal loss to Tomas Berdych. But he’s crafted another late-summer resurgence in picking up his play after Labor Day and working toward a potential blockbuster final against World No. 1 Rafael Nadal.

“I think he’s playing great. Because he lost in the quarters of the French and in Wimbledon, some people think he’s more vulnerable than ever.  But I think he’s actually playing really well,” Djokovic said of Federer. “He played great in Toronto and Cincinnati, and he’s just loves this surface.  He loves this tournament.  He has won so many times. Obviously he’s a favorite.  But, you know, we played so many times, and mostly we played on this surface.  It’s no secret in each other’s game.  Just I will try to hold on, you know.  He always tries to put pressure on his opponent.  He’s very aggressive.”

Rich Pagliaro is the editor of TennisNow.com.

Mrs. Lynch Goes To The Semifinals

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – New York City may own Flushing Meadows-Corona Park and the deed to Arthur Ashe Stadium is in the name of the USTA, but for the last two years, Kim Clijsters owns the US Open.

No greater proof of that came than tonight as the defending Women’s Champion and current No. 2 seed fought off bad play and tough conditions to beat No. 6 seed Sam Stosur, 6-4 5-7 6-3, in their Quarterfinal matchup to improve to 19-0 over the past two years.

And how did Mrs. Lynch win it?

“I think by mentally just staying focused out there,” she said.  “You know, I felt that I was really reading her serve well in the return games.  I really felt that I was just ‑‑ even, you know, those heavy kick serves I felt I was getting into her backhand well, and, yeah, just made her go for some errors.

“Obviously she, you know, wasn’t serving great, either.  I just really felt that, you know, if I could just get that return deep, I felt that I was, you know, kind of in charge of a lot of rallies.”

It got so bad that Clijsters and Stocur could not hold serve on the first seven games of the third set. Part of it reason was the wind, as both players could not have that hard first serve land where they wanted it.

And part was because both players didn’t have their strong games out there, as both admitted after the match.

“Yeah, it was definitely tough conditions, windiest conditions I’ve played in all week, and probably the worst I’ve served all week, as well,” said Stocur, who had her highest finish at the Open of her career.  “Put those two things together, and you don’t hold serve for the third set and you lose.”

“I still didn’t play a good match, but I was obviously able to win it,” Clijsters said.  “That’s obviously, at the end of the day, what we try to do out here, is try to win the matches whether you play good or bad.

“Like I said, even after the match, I was like, How did I win this?  I didn’t feel like I was playing well.  Sam is a good player, you know, so I was just kind of ‑‑ yeah, talking to my coach and fitness coach and just, Wow, what just happened?  How did I win?”

Well it was just sheer guts and guile on Clijsters behalf. She was able to utilize her speed and eventually held serve in Game 8 of the third set. When that happened, it was all over. In fact, she then broke the Australian in the final game with the winner coming on an ace.

“Yeah, that’s probably all the frustration that comes out at the end,” Clijsters said.  “I’m like, I don’t like to hit one more rally.  I just want to finish it with a good shot.  Um, I don’t know.  It’s the rhythm.  It’s been frustrating.”

Clijsters now faces Venus Williams in the Semifinals on Friday. This will be a rubber match of their career head-to-head with both players winning six apiece. But Clijsters has won the last four matches, including the Round of 16 at last year’s US Open, 6-0 0-6 6-4.

But Mrs. Lynch is not taking anything for granted.

“I think obviously the way that she’s been playing and the way that she has mentally looked,” Clijsters said. “I think it’s maybe been even been good for her to have been away for that long, because she looks more hungry than ever.”

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – New York City may own Flushing Meadows-Corona Park and the deed to Arthur Ashe Stadium is in the name of the USTA, but for the last two years, Kim Clijsters owns the US Open.

No greater proof of that came than tonight as the defending Women’s Champion and current No. 2 seed fought off bad play and tough conditions to beat No. 6 seed Sam Stosur, 6-4 5-7 6-3, in their Quarterfinal matchup to improve to 19-0 over the past two years.

And how did Mrs. Lynch win it?

“I think by mentally just staying focused out there,” she said.  “You know, I felt that I was really reading her serve well in the return games.  I really felt that I was just ‑‑ even, you know, those heavy kick serves I felt I was getting into her backhand well, and, yeah, just made her go for some errors.

“Obviously she, you know, wasn’t serving great, either.  I just really felt that, you know, if I could just get that return deep, I felt that I was, you know, kind of in charge of a lot of rallies.”

It got so bad that Clijsters and Stocur could not hold serve on the first seven games of the third set. Part of it reason was the wind, as both players could not have that hard first serve land where they wanted it.

And part was because both players didn’t have their strong games out there, as both admitted after the match.

“Yeah, it was definitely tough conditions, windiest conditions I’ve played in all week, and probably the worst I’ve served all week, as well,” said Stocur, who had her highest finish at the Open of her career.  “Put those two things together, and you don’t hold serve for the third set and you lose.”

“I still didn’t play a good match, but I was obviously able to win it,” Clijsters said.  “That’s obviously, at the end of the day, what we try to do out here, is try to win the matches whether you play good or bad.

“Like I said, even after the match, I was like, How did I win this?  I didn’t feel like I was playing well.  Sam is a good player, you know, so I was just kind of ‑‑ yeah, talking to my coach and fitness coach and just, Wow, what just happened?  How did I win?”

Well it was just sheer guts and guile on Clijsters behalf. She was able to utilize her speed and eventually held serve in Game 8 of the third set. When that happened, it was all over. In fact, she then broke the Australian in the final game with the winner coming on an ace.

“Yeah, that’s probably all the frustration that comes out at the end,” Clijsters said.  “I’m like, I don’t like to hit one more rally.  I just want to finish it with a good shot.  Um, I don’t know.  It’s the rhythm.  It’s been frustrating.”

Clijsters now faces Venus Williams in the Semifinals on Friday. This will be a rubber match of their career head-to-head with both players winning six apiece. But Clijsters has won the last four matches, including the Round of 16 at last year’s US Open, 6-0 0-6 6-4.

But Mrs. Lynch is not taking anything for granted.

“I think obviously the way that she’s been playing and the way that she has mentally looked,” Clijsters said. “I think it’s maybe been even been good for her to have been away for that long, because she looks more hungry than ever.”

It’s A Washout In Flushing Meadows

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – It’s a washout here at the Open and all matches are moved to tomorrow.

That means today – Session 23 on your tickets – will be honored tomorrow with Rafael Nadal resuming his match with Fernando Gonzalez at 12 noon, although weather may dictate that match may be moved to 2 p.m.

I will be followed by the Mens Doubles Finals and then the first Women’s Semifinal of Yanina Wickmayer against Caroline Wozniacki.

Tomorrow night – and not before 8 p.m. – the Serena Williams vs Kim Clijsters matchup will take place.

On Sunday, Session 24 tickets will be honored (the ones for originally for Saturday afternoon). The two men’s Semifinal matches will take place. Right now they don’t know the order. Also taking place tentatively is the Court of Champions ceremony, and that will take place after the first match.

Now the USTA is working with their television partners to put the Women’s final at 9 p.m. If they can then Session 25 tickets will be honored for that day. If they can’t then the  men’s semifinal matches will take place concurrently with the women to follow afterwards.

If Williams wins her match then they will move the Women’s Doubles to Monday, otherwise it will be on Sunday if Clijsters wins.

On Monday, Session 26 tickets will be honored and the Men’s finals will take place around 5 p.m. Yet, that is not entirely confirmed yet.

Sound confusing? Sure, but if you have ticket, just remember to push it back a day. Friday’s tickets for tomorrow. Saturday tickets on Sunday and then Sunday ticket on Monday.

Safina Survives Scare

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – It’s supposed to be easy now to Dinara Safina. She’s the World’s No. 1 women’s player. This is supposed to be her time and her place where she cruises to her first Grand Slam of her career.

But no one told her first round opponent Australian Olivia Rogowska, ranked 167th in the world.

Instead of cruising to the next matchup. Safina struggled. First losing the first set, 7-6, then after taking the second set, 6-2, had to rally to take the final after being down 3-0 for a 6-4 win.

“I’m just like, I had so many opportunities, the set just didn’t go into my hands,” Safina said. “5-3, two balls that she hit, one on the line, one return, and then she kind of frame, I don’t know what, and the ball touched just a little bit, you know.

“Played terrible game on 5-4, Love-30 on her serve, and there I didn’t do anything and I would say poorly tiebreak from my side. But, you, know, I lost it, and definitely I would never give up. Just okay, second set, okay, just try to do more.”

This just may be the wakeup call the 23 year-old needs. All her life she has a goal to be No. 1 and now that she is at the top, it’s very easy to drop off. And she knows all she has to blame for it would be herself.

“I try to do something good, but when it doesn’t go good, then I go like too much into myself, what I’m doing right, wrong, instead of thinking more what I have to do with the ball,” she said. “I don’t know. I guess it’s just –the time, you know, it’s just there and you’re playing. Sometimes things go, some balls doesn’t go. Then, you know, I hit — I don’t challenge the ball and the ball is like this out. Then she challenged the ball and the ball is like this in.

“Just like everything goes wrong, but you still somehow manage, you know, to pull the match out, you know. I guess, you know, I had to do everything today.  It was a bad day and then some good points. So hopefully from today on it’s going to get better.”

Safina has some help. She can look to her brother Maret Safin, who struggled early on in when he won the 2000 US Open. Much like his sister, Safin had to rally in the first round to beat Sebastien Grosjean, which paved the way for his only Queens win.

“He won 7-6 in the fifth set, and they finished, I think it was 5-4,” Safina said. “He was up and the rain started, so they finished another day. So and then he had another like difficult match against Pozzi. So I remember he said he was struggling from the first round, but he made it. So maybe I’m following his steps this time.”

Possibly, but Safina will have to face stiff competition. Serena Willias cruised in her first round and aria Sharapova, who is looking for a comeback is pretty much could have played a ball machine rather than  Bulgarian Tsvetana Pironkova. Even an injured Venus Williams was able to eek out a win, which means she will be much stronger next round.

All this means is that it’s tough at the top and Safina only has one person to fall back upon – herself.

“I don’t really like think let’s say I’m No. 1 and like this,” she thought. “No. I think what I have to do. So it’s not really that I step on the court and I’m thinking, oh, I’m No. 1. I cannot lose this match. I mean, definitely, nobody is unbeatable in this world. I just think what I have to do right. That’s the only thing. But not really that say like, Oh, I cannot lose. More I think like what I have to do.”

And she better, when she faces German Kristina Barrois on Thurday.

“I know her,” she said. “I saw her playing. She’s a great player. Like very good serve. She does everything on the court. So it’s not easy match, but I still think that I have to focus more on myself, what I have to do, than to think what she can put against me.”