Safina withdraws with back injury

Updated: October 29, 2009, 1:08 AM ET
Associated Press

DOHA, Qatar -- Dinara Safina finished the best year of her career with tears in her eyes on Wednesday, as a serious back injury ended her season and her hold on the No. 1 ranking she owned for much of 2009.

Safina lasted just 13 minutes in her first round-robin match of the Sony Ericsson Championships before calling it quits while serving at 1-1 against Jelena Jankovic.

Her withdrawal meant she lost the year-end No. 1 ranking to Serena Williams, a sour ending to a season that saw her become firmly established as one of the sport's stars.

"I did everything possible to play here," Safina said. "As I was chasing this No. 1 (ranking), I was fighting with my body."

After stopping play in the third game, a teary-eyed Safina walked over to her chair and covered her face with a towel before retiring.

She said one of the disks in her lower back was "starting to fracture," and that she has been dealing with the pain for three months.

"Maybe I had to stop after the U.S. Open. But then for two tournaments, let's say Beijing and Tokyo, it was quiet, it didn't bother me that much," she said. "But then my body just gave up."

Now she faces six weeks of rest before stepping back on the court, and a potentially long rehabilitation process.

"I have to work on my muscles, on my core stability," she said. "As I'm tall, I need to be strong, so I can hold myself. This is going to be a very long procedure."

In fact, she is worried she might not be fit enough to play in the Australian Open in late January.

"When I speak with the doctors, it doesn't sound so good," Safina said. "It is possible I may have to skip it."

She was the runner-up this year to Williams and lost the French Open final to Svetlana Kuznetsova, leaving her still looking for her first Grand Slam title -- a blotch on her record that has led to persistent questions about her claim to the top ranking.

But she has been one of the most consistent performers throughout the year, winning titles in Rome, Madrid and Portoroz, and holding the top spot for 26 weeks.

"Definitely I had my best year so far," she said. "I mean, I can just be proud of myself."


Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

ALSO SEE