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SAFINA’S DOHA BID ENDS IN FLOOD OF TEARS

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Russia’s Dinara Safina reacts after she retired midway through her WTA Tour Championships tennis match against Serbia’s Jelena Jankovic in Doha yesterday. (Reuters
By N. D. Prashant
Doha: Serena Williams became the world’s top ranked player after Dinara Safina’s season ended in a flood of tears yesterday when she pulled out of the Sony Ericsson Championships with a lower back injury.
Safina retired with severe back pain after just 13 minutes into the match against Serbian Jelena Jankovic with the scores at one game all. The Russian, who was just 155 points ahead of Serena in the world rankings before the tournament began, thus lost her top spot as the second-ranked Serena had already scored 160 points following her victory over Svetlana Kuznetsova in a late match on Tuesday.
The Safina-Serena battle for the year-end number one spot was the main plot on which the tournament was built, but the Russian’s early exit cast a dampner on the prestigious $4.55mn event.
“It was the low back. I have inflammation there, in the bone. I have been having it already. I would say it started slowly. I’ve been playing on with the pain using anti-inflammatory medicine. So this has been around for over three months,” a dejected Safina said in the media briefing.
The Russian also revealed that had it not been the lure of the world number one spot she would have stopped playing much earlier.
“This pain was one of the reasons why I took a break after the US Open. As I was eyeing the number one spot I thought I would fight with my body. I didn’t feel much of the pain during the Beijing and Tokyo tournaments. But here the body just gave up.”
Safina’s exit turned out to be a blessing for Vera Zvonareva. The Russian will now take take Safina’s place as the first alternative. For Jankovic, who had lost her opening match against Victoria Azarenka, the result has renewed hopes.
“To be honest, I was looking forward to this match. I wanted to play better than yesterday. I had won against her (Safina) in Cincinnati and so was expecting a tough match. It is unfortunate that Dinara got injured,” said Jankovic.
Earlier, the battle between friends Caroline Wozniacki of Demark and Victoria Azarenka of Belarus turned out to be a cracker. The former junior doubles partners Wozniacki and Azarenka were engaged in a tooth and nail battle that lasted over two hours and 58 minutes. The fierce contest that turned into a battle of nerves towards the dying moments ended in favour of Wozniacki at 6-1, 6-4, 7-5.
The teenager rallied from a set down and then saved a match point in the 10th game of the third set to hand Azarenka her first defeat in the round robin league. Azarenka had made a promising start to the event beating Serbian Elena Jankovic in the opening match on Tuesday. A win here would have almost ensured her place in the semis. Yesterday’s result, however, leaves the contest wide open in the white group.
A look into the first set and it seemed as if Azarenka had started from where she had left off against Jankovic. She kept putting the ball in the right places and Wozniacki struggled right through. Apart from her first Wozniacki failed to hold a single serve in that set. After being broken in the third at love Wozniacki dropped her serve in the fifth and seventh games to hand the set cheaply at 6-1 to Azarenka.
Thereafter for those who were praying for an early finish to see Jankovic and Safina play, the wait turned out to be agonising.
An ordinary looking Wozniacki rose from the ashes in the second set. She was far more purposeful in her serves and hitting the ball with tremendous power matched her opponent shot for shot.It seemed to be a never-ending set. The duo first traded serves in the first and second games and were on level terms at 2-2 after the fourth. But it was the fifth game with Azarenka serving that got the crowd on their feet.
The absorbing game saw a whopping 14 deuces and six game points go in favour of Wozniacki, who failed to capitalise on any. Wozniacki’s inability to cash in on the break points once again came to the fore in the seventh game. However, she broke Azarenka in the ninth and held her serve in the 10th to force the match into the deciding third set. “That game took 20 minutes. And even though she won the game, I think that turned it little bit around,” recollected Wozniacki after the match.