- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 7, 2008

PARIS (AP) | Marat Safin once dropped his shorts in glee after hitting an especially nifty shot at the French Open, which makes it natural to wonder how his younger sister might celebrate winning the title.

Along with imposing physiques, booming forehands and short fuses, the siblings from Moscow share a flair for theatrics. Two-time Grand Slam champion Safin might be the most unpredictable player on the men’s tour, and now Dinara Safina has made an improbable run to her first major final.

Seeded 13th at Roland Garros, she will play Ana Ivanovic for the championship Saturday.

“God kept me in this tournament,” Safina said.

Not that God has anything against Maria Sharapova or Elena Dementieva, but Safina did rally from match point down to beat them in back-to-back rounds. Now she will try to become the first woman to win a Grand Slam title after saving match point in two matches.

She well remembers her brother fending off a match point to beat Roger Federer in the semifinals of the 2005 Australian Open, then winning the title three nights later. Does the potential parallel boost her confidence?

“We will see,” she said.

Safin also won the U.S. Open in 2000. He has been text-messaging congratulations to his sister from London, where he’s preparing for Wimbledon, and she’s uncertain whether he will be at the final.

“Maybe he will make a surprise and come because I really like when he comes to see me. But,” she added with a laugh, “he will also be so nervous he will not even be able to watch.”

Safina remembers Safin’s cheeky moment at Roland Garros four years ago. To celebrate a drop shot he hit for a winner, he mooned the crowd and drew a point penalty.

“They have it on YouTube, so I saw it a couple of times,” she said. “He’s an entertainer. That’s why the people love to come to watch him play because he always gives some show. …

“I’m like this. I know I’m not perfect, but the people have to like me the way I am. I don’t want to hide my personality.”

While Safin’s a former No. 1 player, Safina has struggled to crack the top echelon on the women’s tour. She has climbed as high as ninth in the rankings, but her best Grand Slam showings until now were quarterfinal finishes in 2006 at Roland Garros and the U.S. Open.

Now 22 and less prone to tantrums, Safina may be on the best run of her career, with six wins over top-10 players since early May. She and Safin are the first sister and brother to reach Grand Slam finals, but she’s unaccustomed to the attention that comes with playing for a major title.

She will try not to dwell on the stakes.

“I have to do the things that I know to do and try to avoid thinking as much as I can about ‘This is the final,’” she said. “It’s still the same court and still the same ball. It’s just how I take it in my mind.”

At 20, Ivanovic is two years younger than Safina but more experienced on the big stage. She’s seeking her first major title after finishing as runner-up to Justine Henin at the 2007 French Open and to Sharapova at the 2008 Australian Open.

Ivanovic showed plenty of pluck in the semifinals Thursday, coming from behind three times to beat fellow Serb Jelena Jankovic.

Nerves sabotaged her chances in the final a year ago at Roland Garros, and she won only three games. It was an experience many players would be eager to erase from their memory but not Ivanovic.

“I don’t want to forget it, because it was great learning experience,” she said.

“I feel like a different player coming into this French Open. A lot of experience I gained from that final and the final in Australia, so I really hope I can step up this time and make one more step.”

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