Little sister Safina stepping up
With the spotlight clearly on her, Dinara Safina has superseded brother Marat on the court -- and now in the sibling pecking order.
MELBOURNE, Australia -- In the frequently high school atmosphere of the pro tennis circuit, Marat Safin could be cast as the popular, athletic senior who made the girls swoon and to whom everything came easily.Dinara Safina was the awkward young freshman, friendly and earnest but never quite able to live up to the image of her big brother. How things have changed.
Safina, who has been on a tear since unexpectedly winning the Tier I event in Berlin last May, comes into the Australian Open as the No. 3 seed and one of the favorites. Her skin has cleared up, she is sporting a darker hair color, and the successes are mounting. Now, the spotlight has turned her way."Before, really, I was known as Marat's sister, nothing else," she said after winning her second-round match in three sets on Wednesday. "Now when I practice there is more people standing watching me. I get a better court. I'm not anymore Marat's sister."
Safin vs. Federer
Marat Safin will get a chance to relive the glory days when he faces Roger Federer in the third round of the Australian Open on Friday. Safin defeated Federer in a classic match on his way to the title here in 2005, winning in five sets after Federer missed a between-the-legs shot on match point in the fourth. It was the last time Federer would be beaten at a non-clay major until his loss to Novak Djokovic last year.
Four years on, Safin is battered by injury and plagued by apathy. He trails 2-9 in his head-to-head against Federer and isn't talking himself up in this latest encounter. "We know each other pretty well. He knows how to play against me, I know how to play against him," said Safin. "Unfortunately, I didn't win a lot of matches against him, but I'm looking forward [to it]. It's another chance. I have nothing to lose. I'm going to go for it. Whatever comes, comes."
But fans are still anticipating the clash because the mercurial Safin remains capable of short bursts of brilliance, even reaching the Wimbledon semifinals last year. (He lost to Federer in three sets.)
Even Federer is among those looking forward to it. "It's going to be a nice match for sure," said the three-time Australian Open champion. "It was just always, I thought, a good matchup. So I was actually happy.
"We had a good match [at Wimbledon]. I expect it to be tougher here on the hard courts, which should suit his game more."
"It's a little bit tougher to compete against them because they're just full of confidence and they're hungry. They're going for it. They're not scared."Safin was referring to the likes of Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, but he might as well have been describing the mindset of his 22-year-old sister. While in previous years she tended to speak of "patience, trying 100 percent and luck," there is now only one refrain in her playing vocabulary: being aggressive and going for her shots. Safina said that was the difference between the first set and final two sets of her 6-7, 6-3, 6-0 victory over Ekaterina Makarova, and she believes it is always the difference between her wins and losses. "No," Safina replied when asked if she had ever lost a match being too aggressive. "I'm better to lose the match being aggressive than lose the match being passive. Whenever I'm passive, I lose. That's what happens every time. I lost the tiebreak because I was too passive."
It's a philosophy with which she and coach Zeljko Krajan are in complete agreement, and not even her adored big brother's influence will move her. Not even when they're sharing a court, as Safin discovered when he and Safina played mixed doubles together for the first time in the Hopman Cup mixed team competition earlier this month."It's fun," Safina said of the experience, glad to get the chance before Safin hangs up his racket. "It was my first time and, well, with everything it's the last time that we play together, so it was nice that I had a chance to do it."
Kamakshi Tandon is a freelance tennis writer for ESPN.com.
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2009 AUSTRALIAN OPEN
Women's singles: Serena Williams, United States
Rafael Nadal, Spain
Men's doubles: Bob and Mike Bryan, United States
Women's doubles: Serena and Venus Williams, United States
Mixed doubles: Sania Mirza and Mahesh Bhupathi, India
Official scoreboard: Scores
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