Rehabbing Safina Relinquishes Crown

This content was published 14 years ago. It may refer to a past edition of the Internazionali d’Italia.

Former world No.1 struggles to find rhythm after serious back injury, loses 6-4, 6-7(5), 6-1
Few tennis observers will have expected 2009 Internazionali BNL d’Italia champion Dinara Safina to have had a legitimate shot at defending her crown, having missed almost six months of tennis off and on due to a back condition. When she bowed out of the Australian Open in agony last January, it was the start of a nightmare two months during which she could barely walk, let alone think of swinging a tennis racquet in anger.
She made her comeback at Stuttgart last week and won her opening match, but Rome was always going to be a stern test, and her week was over before it ever really started on a drizzly yet humid Pietrangeli court on Tuesday. Her Romanian opponent Alexandra Dulgheru reached the semi-finals on the clay of Barcelona last month as well as taking a set off finalist Sam Stosur in Stuttgart, and at No.43 in the world and rising all the time, she was never going to provide the former No.1 with an easy reintroduction to the world of WTA Premier tournaments.
Safina was a step slow throughout the match. Her service was below strength, her movement sluggish and in total, she faced no fewer than two dozen break points. The most alarming statistic was the 51 unforced errors she made, but never once did she give up, battling back from 0-4 in the first set to level at 4-4 and then taking the second set on a nip-and-tuck tie-break.
Dulgheru cannily took a comfort break after Safina had levelled, and the No.3 seed sat huddled under a towel as all the momentum she had just worked up slowly ebbed away. When the Romanian returned, it was all Safina could do to avoid the dreaded “bagel”, and she took only one of the last seven games.
“I can’t say that I’m not experienced enough (to deal with the 15-minute break) but it was strange, yes,” lamented Safina after the match. “I had to move and serve, just to keep my body moving (during the break) but I didn’t, and then I started from nothing, and after that I made too many unforced errors.”
“Overall I think the game, particularly in the third set, was quite difficult and fast. In a second, I was 5-0 down after winning the second set. Some points were okay in my game. I don’t know if it was over-hitting or over-waiting. I think I was waiting too much for the ball and I was playing down and I had to move better with my feet. I want to watch my match on video before I analyse it.”
“I think the only good thing about this match was that my back didn’t create any problems,” said the ousted champion as she bowed out of the tournament. A journey of ten thousand ranking points begins with a small step however, and Dinara took plenty of those in the right direction on Tuesday. Patience is a virtue, and if she can add that to the determination she has in shed loads, then her time will come again.

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