- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 6, 2009

PARIS — Svetlana Kuznetsova conquered her nerves and beat a shaky Dinara Safina to win the French Open.

Showing uncharacteristic calm, Kuznetsova earned her second Grand Slam title Saturday by defeating Safina 6-4, 6-2 in an all-Russian matchup. Jitters have often betrayed Kuznetsova down the stretch in big matches, but she swept the final four games with steady play.

Instead it was the top-ranked Safina who battled her emotions. She double-faulted seven times, struggled with her movement and appeared near tears late in the match.

“Today I think she was too tight,” Kuznetsova said. “She had so much pressure on her. But I could bring my better game today — that’s why I won.”

Four-time French Open champion Justine Henin and others have criticized Safina’s ranking because she has yet to win a major. She climbed to No. 1 in April and will remain there through at least late July, but she’s now 0-3 in Grand Slam finals.

The younger sister of two-time Grand Slam champion Marat Safin was runner-up at Roland Garros last year to Ana Ivanovic.

“Here I am back in the same situation as last year,” Safina said during the trophy ceremony, her voice cracking. “Hopefully one day I can win here.”

The loss ended her 16-match winning streak and was the latest in a series of lopsided women’s finals at Roland Garros. The last one to go three sets was in 2001, when Jennifer Capriati beat Kim Clijsters.

On Sunday, Roger Federer will play in his fourth consecutive Roland Garros final, with one big difference this year: He’s facing Robin Soderling, not Rafael Nadal. Federer will bid for his 14th major title to match Pete Sampras’ record, and he’ll try to become the sixth man to win all four Grand Slam titles.

Soderling will play in his first major final after upsetting four-time defending champion Nadal in the fourth round.

Kuznetsova ended Serena Williams’ 18-match Grand Slam winning streak in the quarterfinals, and she had the more varied game against Safina, mixing the angle and pace of her groundstrokes as she scooted across the clay. Kuznetsova hit an occasional drop shot and won all six points when she came to the net.

Cool, damp weather made for slower conditions that lessened the impact of Safina’s booming groundstrokes. And her serve was woeful: Safina lost more than half her service points and was broken five times.

She double-faulted for the last time on championship point, then slammed her racket to the court. Kuznetsova’s reaction to the victory was subdued. The two finalists, whose friendly rivalry dates back a decade, traded kisses on the cheek at the net. Kuznetsova then allowed herself a brief smile and acknowledged the cheering crowd by patting her chest.

“I’ve been waiting for this moment for a very long time,” Kuznetsova said. “Really, I didn’t expect it to happen this year, but I give my best, I played with all my heart, I had unbelievable matches, I had unbelievable support. It’s my favorite tournament.”

Steffi Graf, who won the last of her six French Open titles a decade ago, presented the trophy.

“I’ve been watching her for very long, but I’ve never met her,” Kuznetsova said. “So today I got in the locker room, and first thing I saw her, and I got red and I said, ‘Hi, I’ve never met you.’ She wished me good luck. It’s special she gives me the trophy.”

No. 7-seeded Kuznetsova, the 2004 U.S. Open champion, won $1.5 million while Safina received $750,000.

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