Safina's harshest critic
Sunday 25 January 2009
By Alix Ramsay
Safina pulls thorugh
If this is Dinara Safina when she is winning, you really would not want to bump into her when she is losing. The world No. 3 took the roundabout route to the Australian Open 2009 quarterfinals, cruising past Alize Cornet for a set, falling apart at the seams for a set, and then clinging on by her fingernails for a set of nerves, tension and missed opportunities to win 6-2 2-6 7-5.
It was not pretty to watch and, by all accounts, it was not pretty to witness at court level either. Even though Safina was into the last eight in Melbourne for the first time in her career, she was not happy. Not happy at all.
"I played really like a junior today," she said, cutting herself no slack whatsoever. "I think it's just lucky that I went through. But really it's sad that I can do these kind of mistakes. Really, it's sad what I did today."
Normally, when a player is wheeled out in front of the world's media, the hacks are looking for a little emotion. Anger is good. Tears are better. We are suckers for a bit of sobbing. But as Safina berated herself time and again – and did it in a very controlled and rational manner – the scribes began to twitch. Come on, Dinara, surely you have to give yourself a little credit for pulling the result out of the fire? Apparently not.
"How many chances I need to have?" Safina said with a shrug. "I'm also lucky that I won first round. The girl, I didn't even have to stay in the court because she was playing against herself. She was shooting 10 balls in the fence, one in the court."
This line of reasoning led to a litany of mistakes, fluffed chances and duff matches that the Russian had played since she arrived at Melbourne Park. According to Safina, all but one of her matches so far have been a disaster, and she is lucky still to be involved in the competition. Even her coach thinks so.
"He's telling me at 5‑4, ‘Hit the ball’," she said. "I telling myself, ‘Hit the ball’, and just arm doesn't go because my mind is just stupid."
By this time, we had all got the general gist of the argument – Safina was practising like a champion but playing like a plum. And she was not pleased about it at all. This, though, should not have come as a surprise.
As the sister of Marat Safin, a man not known for his mental stability, she has all the family characteristics: a thumpingly powerful game, an ability to self-destruct at the drop of a first serve, and a disarmingly open personality. Being like Marat may win her a lot of friends, but it does not make winning major titles any easier.
With this in mind, and after being dumped out of last year's Australian Open in the first round, Safina decided that she needed a major change. She hired a new coach – Zeljko Krajan – she dropped seven kilos in weight and, after losing in the French Open final last year, she employed a full-time fitness trainer in Dejan Vojnovic.
Krajan has tried everything he knows to try and instill a sense of belief and confidence into his charge, and even has her reading the same motivational books that he used when he was playing. So far it has worked like a dream on the practice courts, but it is yet to make an appearance on the match court.
"He said it makes no point for him to sit there and seeing myself playing completely different from what I'm practicing," Safina said, obviously having had a few terse words with Mr Krajan. "Practicing playing aggressive, hitting the balls: from 10 times, 10 I hit exactly where I need to hit aggressive.
"Come to the court and completely like just shadow is playing. Like Dinara is there, but just not me. So he's like, ‘Okay, if you continue playing like this, it's better that I go home’."
For the moment, both Safina and Krajan are safely booked into their hotels for a few more days. That gives them a little more time to try and solve the problem of what lies between the Russian's ears. Safina, though, is not holding out much hope. She thinks it is time to take drastic action.
"Somebody just smacks me so hard in my head that something shakes finally and I put the cables together," she said.
She sounds like Marat, she looks like Marat and, one day, she can win like Marat. Maybe then she might just be happy …
Originally Posted by Dowa, on a theory proposed by Annie
the connection between his brain and his body has been restored!