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Safina braces for Kuznetsova final

DINARA Safina shanked shots, endured a flurry of double-faults, screamed profanities at herself and still advanced to the French Open final.

The combustible Russian beat Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia 6-3, 6-3 in the semifinals yesterday and needs one more win for her first grand slam title.

Safina, ranked No. 1, won despite seven double-faults and 24 unforced errors. Twice in one game, her shots landed short of the net.

Cibulkova did not seize her chances and failed to convert seven of her eight break opportunities.

"It wasn't an easy match," Safina said. "I was nervous at the beginning because I was eager for this win. Instead of dominating from the first point, I waited until (Cibulkova started to) dominate to start playing. I must change that."

Safina was runner-up to Ana Ivanovic of Serbia last year at Roland Garros, and lost this year's Australian Open final to American Serena Williams.

Her opponent tomorrow will be compatriot Svetlana Kuznetsova.

The seventh seeded Russian saw off a stiff challenge from 30th seed Samantha Stosur of Australia 4-6, 7-6 (5), 6-3 last night.

"It's getting closer to the end and I really want to win it. I am more and more tense," said Safina.

"I really want to win this tournament. I had a very good experience last year, and I hope to do better this year. I still have a match to play, and I will give everything I've got."

Safina improved to 20-1 since she became No. 1 for the first time on April 20. Her brother, Marat Safin, is a former No. 1 and two-time grand slam champion.

The family's notorious temper was evident on occasion in the semifinal. At least twice, Safina screamed a vulgarity at herself in English that TV microphones picked up, and an announcer apologized to the European audience.

Her language was cleaner when she shanked a backhand into the dirt at her feet.

"That was a great shot," she said.

Later in the same game, Safina misfired so badly on a first serve that she drove the ball into the clay in front of the net. She held anyway for a 4-2 lead in the second set.

Safina kissed the corner with a forehand winner to reach match point and closed out the victory when the Slovak put a backhand in the net.

The match was played from behind the baseline, and it was into the seventh game before either player attempted a volley. Cibulkova, who has yet to win a singles title on the WTA tour, found herself at a disadvantage in rallies because she often had to hit the ball above eye level, while high-kicking shots were right in the 1.82-meter Safina's hitting zone.

On a sunny, cool afternoon, Safina started slowly. She fell behind 2-love, then began to find the range and won five consecutive games.

She struggled to close out the set, sailing returns long on three successive set points, but converted on the fourth try with a booming forehand.

A lob winner over the 1.60-meter Cibulkova helped Safina earn the first break of the second set for a 3-2 lead, and she closed out the win despite some fitful moments.


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