Safina reaches Rome finals

2009-05-09 06:50

Rome - Top-ranked Dinara Safina rallied to beat Venus Williams 6-7 (3), 6-3, 6-4 and set up an all-Russian final with Svetlana Kuznetsova at the Italian Open on Friday.

No. 8-ranked Kuznetsova beat No. 9 Victoria Azarenka, a three-time title winner this year, 6-2, 6-4 in the other semifinal at Foro Italico.

The Russians' clash on Saturday will be a repeat of last weekend's Porsche Grand Prix final at Stuttgart, where Kuznetsova upset Safina in straight sets to capture her first WTA title in almost two years. Kuznetsova has won nine successive matches on clay.

Both players have been runners-up in Rome, Safina three years ago and Kuznetsova in 2007.

Safina beat Williams for the first time after two losses, in a slugfest which enthralled the crowd for 3 hours, 10 minutes.

"She pushed me to play my best," Safina said of the 1999 Rome champion. "Sometimes you need this kind of match ... It gives me a lot of confidence to beat such a big player like her, such a champion."

No. 5 Williams closed out the first-set tiebreaker with a delicate drop volley, and went on to break Safina in the opening game of the second set.

But the Russian came back to win six of the following seven games to level the match.

In the third set, it was Safina who twice had the edge - and lost it, until a backhand winning return gave her another break and sent her to serve out the match.

She committed three double faults and saved four break points before winning on her third match point.

"It was not easy mentally," Safina said.

Safina had 32 winners to 38 for Williams. But she also committed fewer unforced errors, and stayed mentally strong to pull off her third successive comeback from a set down this week.

"She played well, continued to fight for every point," Williams said. "That's what you have to do on this surface."

The American, by reaching the semi-finals in Rome, is still assured of jumping from No. 5 to 3 for her highest ranking in six years.

Still, Williams argued, for her what counts is the title.

"The ranking will come when it comes. I like to keep my titles and have my trophies at home," she said.

After Azarenka ousted two-time champion Jelena Jankovic on Thursday, Kuznetsova was expecting a tough match from the Belarus teenager.

But she quickly took the first set with three breaks of serve. In the second, Azarenka pushed ahead with a break but appeared to lose her concentration as she disputed a call by the umpire in the third game. She lost the next five games - and ultimately the match.

"To me, she (got) too upset for no reason," Kuznetsova said. "It was just one ball in the match.

"But I stayed strong, and I'm happy to finish in two sets."