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September 29, 2009

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Taiwanese qualifier Chang stuns Safina

WORLD No. 1 Dinara Safina collapsed to a stunning 7-6, 4-6, 7-5 defeat by Chinese Taipei qualifier Chang Kai-chen at the Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo yesterday.

The Russian, dumped out of the US Open in the third round earlier this month, struggled from the start in her opening match against a player 131 places below her in the world rankings.

"It's not an easy moment," Safina said after surrendering her title. "I had a lot of chances in the third set but I just let it go."

"I didn't play the way I should. I never took her out of her comfort zone," added Safina, who had sat sobbing on the steps of the players' lounge after her latest setback. "I didn't do much to help myself."

French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova followed her compatriot out of the tournament. The fifth seed was upset 7-5, 4-6, 6-3 by Germany's Andrea Petkovic, also a qualifier.

Maria Sharapova restored some pride for Russia, however, and gave the tournament sponsors some cheer with a battling 4-6, 7-5, 6-1 win over Italy's Francesca Schiavone.

Safina's ownership of the No. 1 spot has been a source of contention following her failure to win a maiden grand slam in 2009. A brief holiday from tennis after her New York flop did not look to have helped the Russian, who got off to a poor start in Tokyo by losing the first set tiebreak 7-5.

The Pan Pacific title holder, given a first-round bye at the US$2 million tournament, rallied to take the second with a thumping backhand, pumping her fist and screeching "Come on!"

But after seizing an early break in the deciding set, Safina's nervousness resurfaced as she tamely surrendered her serve with a double-fault at 5-4 up.

While Safina yelled at herself in Russian, the 18-year-old Chang kept her cool, completing the biggest win of her career by forcing Safina into wild forehand on her third match point.

"I never came into the match thinking I was going to lose badly," said Chang after winning a marathon match in two hours and 44 minutes. "I just wanted to play tough."

Former world No. 1 Sharapova improved as her first-round match progressed, storming through the final set before closing out with a blistering forehand down the line.


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