seven times

Safina ends Clijsters’ comeback run in Cincinnati; Dementieva rolls Wozniacki

Former world No. 1 Kim Clijsters’ outstanding comeback to the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour came to an abrupt end, as current world No. 1 Dinara Safina of Russia edged past the gutsy 26-year-old Belgian, 6-2, 7-5, on Friday afternoon at the Western & Southern Financial Group Women’s Open in Cincinnati.

After jumping out to a 2-0 lead, her fourth consecutive quick start in as many matches backed by steady ground strokes and crisp angles, Clijsters’ serve hit the wall, as Safina broke serve three straight times and took the opening set, 6-2, in 26 minutes. The former US Open champion then jumped out to another 2-0 lead to start the second set before taking a 4-2 lead. But her serve continued to let her down throughout the match, especially during the critical moments of the second set and eventually costing her the match.

“She really made it tough for me out there,” said Clijsters, the winner of 34 career singles titles. “I tried to mix it up a little bit.”

The Russian won 66 percent of first serve points and only hit three double faults compared to Clijsters, who won just 48 percent of her first serve points and tossed in six double faults. Safina, who reached the finals at the Australian and French Open earlier this year, broke serve seven times throughout the match.

Safina attempted to serve out the match at 5-4 in the second set, but Clijsters fired back with a break of serve in front of a pro-Clijsters crowd. Clijsters lost focus in her next service game, dropping serve at ease with several unforced errors. Safina then consolidated the break to advance to the semifinals in her first visit to Cincinnati.

Despite the loss, Clijsters was very pleased with her performance in her comeback tournament.

“I’m definitely pleased with the level that I’ve had and that I got to in these four matches,” said Clijsters. Obviously today, maybe would have liked to try a few different things. Overall, I’m very happy and satisfied with the way that everything has been.

Clijsters will next head to Toronto, where she has accepted a wild card into next week’s main draw at the Rogers Cup. She will then play at the US Open in New York before figuring out what other tournaments she wants to play this season, all based on her fitness and family obligations.

Safina is now assured to stay put at the top ranking as long as Serena Williams does not accept a wild card in two weeks to play in the Pilot Pen Tennis in New Haven, Connecticut.

Safina will next face Italian Flavia Pennetta for a place in the championship match. Pennetta beat Slovakian Daniela Hantuchova, 6-3, 6-3, to win a career-best 15th consecutive match. No matter how she fares against the top-ranked player on Saturday, Pennetta is guaranteed to crack the Top 10 on Monday, becoming the first Italian to accomplish that feat.

In other matches, No. 4 seed Elena Dementieva of Russia continued her winning ways as she cruised to a convincing, 6-2, 6-1, victory over No. 8 seed Carolina Wozniacki of Denmark to advance to the semifinals.

It was a serving struggle from the start with nobody holding serve until the 27-year-old Russian finally held serve in the sixth game of the opening set. The gold medalist at the Beijing Olympics followed up the service hold by immediately breaking Wozniacki’s serve before holding at ease to take the opening set, 6-2.

“There were so many breaks,” said Dementieva, who has won 13 career singles titles. “As soon as I was able to hold my serve, I started to play more confident.”

Dementieva dropped the opening game of the second set, before winning six straight games to win the match in one hour and 13 minutes. Dementieva improves to 3-2 lifetime against the 19-year-old Dane. Wozniacki, who made her Sony Ericsson WTA Tour main draw debut in Cincinnati in 2005, had won the previous two meetings played this season.

Dementieva, who reached a career best ranking of No. 3 in April, broke serve on seven occasions, four in the opening set and three in the final set. Wozniacki was only able to break Dementieva’s serve twice, both in the early stages of the opening set.

“Usually I don’t get broken seven times in a match,” said Wozniacki, who resides in Monte Carlo, Monaco during the off-season. “That was something new for me. I was struggling a little bit with that.”

Dementieva will next face No. 5 Jelena Jankovic, who easily dispatched Austrian Sybille Bammer, 6-0, 6-3, in the late match.