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Awesome Safina breezes to Toray Pan Pacific win

by Andrew Mckirdy

Russia’s Dinara Safina hailed her “best ever tennis” as she swept past compatriot Svetlana Kuznetsova to win the Toray Pan Pacific Open final in straight sets on Sunday.

Safina followed up her semifinal demolition of Nadia Petrova with another awesome display to beat Kuznetsova 6-1, 6-3 and move up two places in the world rankings to No. 3.

After a difficult first match against Estonia’s Kaia Kanepi this week, Safina hit top gear to win her fourth title of the year, and the 22-year-old believes she showed the form of her life to the crowd at Tokyo’s Ariake Colosseum.

“Yesterday and today I played my best tennis ever,” she said after the match. “Now I am just taking it one week at a time. I just want to stay healthy and see how far I can go.”

Safina celebrated victory by making a beeline for her coach, who she credits with refining her game and helping her to the finals of this year’s French Open and Beijing Olympics.

“I think that is the key to success,’ she said.

“You have to trust somebody because by yourself it is very difficult to make it to the top.

“When I won the match against Kanepi he said to me ‘you still have so much inside of you, so just go out and play your game.’ Suddenly something clicked and from yesterday I was a completely different player. Even my coach said he had nothing to say to me because he could just sit back and watch my match.”

Safina broke first in the fourth game, flashing a backhand past Kuznetsova to give her an edge she did not surrender as she took the first set 6-1. Kuznetsova had no answer to Safina’s booming forehand and all-around power game, and could not find a way to halt the procession even when she broke back to level the score at 2-2 in the second set.

Former U.S. Open champion Kuznetsova shrugged off the defeat after the match, saying just reaching the final had been a triumph in itself.

“It is very disappointing but I will be honest — I came here not expecting to get to the final,” she said.

“She was the favorite and she did it. I did better than I expected. I have had ups and downs this season and I am happy to be up again. It is a very positive thing for me and I am starting to be more confident again on the court. For me it was very important.”

Safina went into the tournament with a 37-5 win-loss record since winning her first Tier 1 event in May at the German Open. The Russian says she has learned to control her emotions more, but also puts her success down to a trimmed-down, leaner physique.

“I was a little heavy before, and it was difficult to compete with the top 10 players because you have to be one step ahead of them,” she said. “To get ahead of them I had to lose some weight.”

And with the world rankings currently in a state of flux, Kuznetsova believes her countrywoman has all the tools needed to make a serious assault on the top spot.

“I think she wasn’t playing very well until this year, and now she is more fresh than the other players at the top,” she said.

“She works very hard and she has lots of energy, and I think she has much more confidence now.

“I definitely think she has a possibility because the way she has been playing, she has more confidence and is fresher than everyone else. Serena Williams doesn’t play so many tournaments and Jelena (Jankovic) was very consistent, but Dinara has bigger strokes.

“For the moment she has been one of the strongest players on the tour in the second half of the season.”

But Kuznetsova, whose final appearance on Sunday carried on the momentum she gathered as part of a winning Russian Fed Cup team in Spain this month, also suggested her own recent success may give her the strength to challenge Safina’s rise.

“This year I haven’t been playing well,” she said. “But next year maybe I have a chance to get to No. 1.”