Jankovic, Safina to play for Cincinnati title

August 15, 2009 03:31 PM

MASON, Ohio (AP) -- The world’s top-ranked women’s tennis player easily beat one of its most worn-out.

Dinara Safina needed only 56 minutes to eliminate Italy’s Flavia Pennetta 6-2, 6-0 on Saturday. She’ll play Serbia’s Jelena Jankovic for the championship of the $2 million Western & Southern Financial Group Women’s Open.

Safina reached her eighth final in 14 tournaments this year, ending Pennetta’s winning streak at 15. After a ragged opening match, she’s gotten a little stronger and sharper each day.

“Every match I feel better,” she said. “Today, stepping on the court, I was feeling very good and confident. I was feeling very good stepping in.”

After two weeks of grueling—and winning—tennis, Pennetta didn’t feel so good. She had blisters on her feet, a sore right ankle wrapped in tape, and aches all over from so many matches back-to-back—11 in 13 days. She tried to take the loss stoically.

“She was playing much better than me,” Pennetta said. “I was a little bit tired, of course, but I didn’t lose for that. She was playing unbelievable.”

It was apparent to her opponent that the 27-year-old Italian didn’t have much left.

“I know how it is playing that many matches in a row,” Safina said. “When somebody starts to put pressure on you from the first, it’s tough mentally to face it. That was the key for myself. I wanted to put the pressure and to dominate, and not let her get into the match.”

By reaching the semifinals, Pennetta assured she will become the first Italian woman to move into the Top 10 when the rankings come out Monday. It’s quite a feat back home—only two Italian men have ever cracked the Top 10, Adriano Panatta and Corrado Barazzutti in the 1970s. Pennetta is currently ranked No. 12.

She won the title at Palermo in July without dropping a set, then got her biggest career singles title at Los Angeles on Sunday. After she won in the semifinals on Friday in Cincinnati, she showed the strain. Pennetta told reporters that she was sore all over, then got up stiffly from her chair and shuffled out of the room.

A day later, it was no better.

Pennetta wore down fast in the heat and humidity. At times, just walking back to the baseline for the next point seemed to be a chore.

Safina broke her serve at the outset for a 2-0 lead and was never challenged. Pennetta’s shots floated or flattened. By the sixth game, she looked spent. Her back-to-back double faults gave Safina a 5-1 advantage and made her spend a little of her dwindling energy on a display of frustration—she swatted a ball into the stands.

As the second set also slipped away, she leaned over behind the baseline and braced her left hand on her left knee to hold herself up. She didn’t budge for several seconds.

Her wonderful run was done.

“I’m confident now,” Pennetta said. “My coach told me, ‘Maybe it’s better if you rest a little bit now.’ But I want to play because I feel great, and I prefer to keep going.”

Safina improved to 7-0 career against Pennetta—she’s lost only two sets to the Italian—and extended an impressive week. She ended Kim Clijsters’ comeback week in the quarterfinals with a dominating forehand, then was sharp with all her shots against Pennetta.

The 23-year-old Russian is wrapping up her 17th straight week at No. 1. Since May 2008, she has reached the finals in 14 of her 25 tournaments, winning seven titles.

She’ll be better rested for the title match. Jankovic’s ragged 7-6, (2), 0-6, 7-6 (6) win over Elena Dementieva took 2 hours, 46 minutes in the evening.

The fifth-seeded Jankovic blew three match points in the third set, setting up the tiebreaker, then fell behind 6-2 before pulling it out. There were 13 service breaks and 25 double faults in the match.

Dementieva, the No. 4 seed, had eight double faults in the first set. She got her serve under control and dominated the second set, only to relapse. She was broken twice in the third set on double faults.

Up 5-4, Jankovic squandered three straight match points, allowing Dementieva to pull even. They broke each other’s serve to send it to the tiebreaker, where Dementieva got up 6-2, blew four match points, then double-faulted to put it back in Jankovic’s hands.

“I don’t believe I won this match,” Jankovic said.