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Kuznetsova keeps cool to deny Safina

SVETLANA Kuznetsova conquered her nerves and beat a shaky Dinara Safina 6-4, 6-2 yesterday to win the French Open.

Showing uncharacteristic calm, Kuznetsova earned her second grand slam title. 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 in the all-Russian matchup. She double-faulted seven times, struggled with her movement and appeared near tears late in the match.

"Today I think she was too tight," the seventh-seeded 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 title. 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, which ended her 16-match winning streak, 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.

Kuznetsova ended Serena Williams' 18-match grand slam winning streak in the quarterfinals, and against Safina she had the more varied game, mixing the angle and pace of her groundstrokes as she scooted across the clay. She 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, and 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.


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