Commentary

Proud momma excited about daughter's first trip to a major final

First she saw her son Marat win two Grand Slam titles, and now Raouza Islanova will be along for the ride when her daughter takes the court on Saturday for the French Open championship.

Updated: June 5, 2008, 2:08 PM ET
By Sandra Harwitt | Special to ESPN.com

Not long after Dinara Safina reached her first Grand Slam final at Roland Garros with a surprisingly succinct 6-3, 6-2 victory over fellow Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova, she rushed into her mother's waiting arms in the players' lounge.

Raouza Islanova, a famed tennis coach in Russia, grabbed her daughter and hugged her tightly -- clearly every ounce the proud parent. Islanova, blonde hair cut short, often offers a stern pose courtside. But the woman who also coached Elena Dementieva and Anastasia Myskina during their formative years was all smiles and softness as she briefly fussed over Safina before she went off to meet commitments.

For Islanova, it was the ultimate culminating moment, unless, of course, her daughter goes on to win the title on Saturday. Then she could say she is the mother of two Grand Slam champions. But even if that is not the outcome of this French Open, Islanova has the distinction of being the first mother to have a daughter and a son reach a major final.

She provided her son, Marat Safin, fundamental teaching as a youth and then sent him off in his early teens to train in Spain. Often noted for being irascible, Safin first gained notoriety when he played near-perfect tennis while upsetting world No. 1 Pete Sampras in the 2000 U.S. Open final. A four-time Grand Slam finalist, Safin won his second major at the 2005 Australian Open.

And now Safina, who also has a history of hot-headedness, earns her first Grand Slam final berth. Unlike with Marat, Islanova has had a guiding hand in her daughter's pro career but now willingly takes a backseat to current coach Zeljko Krajan.

These days, she says, "I am just mother."

"For me, it's different -- win or lose, it's my children," Islanova said. "For my heart, it's not whether they are winners. For me, I want to help and we, the family, we stay together and that's very important. We are very close. It's not like it's Marat's life and it's Dinara's life -- we all stay together."

Although she hesitated to assume a coaching posture, Islanova analyzed why her daughter has finally gone past the quarterfinals at a major.

"Dinara has become stable mentally," Islanova said with the help of a friend interpreting on this question. "She has settled down and it's helped her to focus even on the court when there's a big audience."

Islanova says Safin relishes his role as the older brother, which sometimes translates into needling his sister at times, even in public forums such as press conferences.

Yet she is pointed about making sure it is understood their closeness in no way changes the fact they lead very separate lives. In fact, she was visibly surprised by a question wondering whether Safin would return to Paris to watch his sister in the final on Saturday.

"Why does he need to come?" a perplexed Islanova questions back in English. "He sent her his congratulations. He's now staying at Wimbledon. He left [for Wimbledon] yesterday."

Sandra Harwitt is a freelance tennis writer for ESPN.com.

Sandra Harwitt is a freelance tennis writer for ESPN.com.