IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Safina barely avoids early exit at US Open

Dinara Safina's coach couldn't bear to watch.
/ Source:

Dinara Safina's coach couldn't bear to watch.Sitting in the stands at the U.S. Open, he'd cover his eyes with his hands or turn his head with a wince as Safina's 11 double-faults and all manner of other mistakes mounted _ or put another way, as she looked less and less like a woman who is ranked No. 1.There's been some debate this season about whether Safina deserves that standing, one spot ahead of Serena Williams. The Russian did not bolster her case Tuesday, narrowly avoiding becoming the first No. 1-seeded woman to lose in the first round of the Grand Slam tournament.Nearly undone by her own poor play, Safina was a point away from a 4-0 deficit in the third set before coming back to beat 167th-ranked Olivia Rogowska of Australia 6-7 (5), 6-2, 6-4 and reach the second round at Flushing Meadows.Safina, younger sister of 2000 U.S. Open champion Marat Safin, is used to faring well in the early stages of Grand Slam tournaments. Usually, it's later on that problems arise: She is 0-3 in major finals, all lopsided losses, and managed to win only one game against Venus Williams in the Wimbledon semifinals in July.On Tuesday at Arthur Ashe Stadium, Safina repeatedly glanced up at her coach, Zeljko Krajan, perhaps hoping for positive reinforcement. Instead, she rarely found anything but negative body language sent her way."Well," Safina would say later, "I guess I had to think: 'What I'm doing wrong?'"The answer: plenty. And she didn't merely miss, 48 unforced errors in all. She missed rather badly. Embarrassingly, even."I was surprised that, you know, she was giving me free points," said Rogowska, an 18-year-old who never has defeated anyone ranked better than 47th.As Rogowska spoke, her eyes were red, and she fiddled with a well-worn tissue."I'm disappointed I lost," she said, "and I didn't expect to say that after playing the No. 1 player in the world. It's a bit weird."Rogowska couldn't quite complete her bid for a major upset.Even though Safina won, her showing counted as the biggest news on a Day 2 when things mainly went to form. There was the occasional surprise: 267th-ranked Jesse Witten of Naples, Fla., knocked off No. 29-seeded Igor Andreev of Russia 6-4, 6-0, 6-2; Yanina Wickmayer of Belgium defeated No. 16 Virginie Razzano of France 6-4, 6-3; and Shahar Peer of Israel eliminated No. 32 Agnes Szavay of Hungary 6-2, 6-2.Otherwise, nothing out of the ordinary. Winners included 2004 U.S. Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, past runners-up Elena Dementieva and Jelena Jankovic, No. 9 Caroline Wozniacki and No. 13 Nadia Petrova.Men's winners included 2008 Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic and that tournament's runner-up, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, along with No. 10 Fernando Verdasco, No. 11 Fernando Gonzalez, No. 16 Marin Cilic, No. 17 Tomas Berdych and No. 22 Sam Querrey.The night session included 2006 U.S. Open champion Maria Sharapova, who missed last year's tournament with a shoulder injury that required surgery, against Tsvetana Pironkova of Bulgaria, followed by 2008 finalist Andy Murray against Ernests Gulbis of Latvia.Earlier, neither Safina nor Rogowska played particularly well. They combined for 24 double-faults, 113 unforced errors and 15 service breaks over 2 1/2 hours."I put a lot of pressure on her serve," Rogowska said, "and it seemed to crumble a bit."Afterward, Safina found two things to be happy about: She didn't break any rackets _ something big brother Marat is known for _ and she didn't receive any warnings from the chair umpire. So, yes, the mental fragility she's acknowledged is an issue for her on court was a factor in her play, but at least Safina managed to keep it in check.Oh, and then there was this: "Tomorrow is another day," she said. "So hopefully from today on, it's going to get better."Couldn't get much worse."It happens that you have a bad day and you want to ... say, 'I hate everything,'" Safina said. "But at the end of the day, you win the match, even like this _ I would say a little bit ugly. But you come in the hotel, and you are like, 'I made it.' Like, at the end of the day, that counts. I made it. I pulled it out, and that's what counts for me."Rogowska, too, tried to find the positive in her day. A year ago, after all, she was back home in Melbourne, watching the U.S. Open on television.On Tuesday, she was playing in the tournament and nearly winning _ against the woman who is ranked No. 1, no less."My heart was just going crazy, and I was breathing, like, really fast," Ragowska said. "So next time, I guess, I'm just going to have to learn to stay calm, and, you know, not get too excited."Sounds like good advice for Safina.