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Consistency Is Key To Being No. 1

NEW YORK – OK, so what if Serena Williams has won the women’s singles at the three of the last four Grand Slam tournaments. Who cares that Serena is the defending champion here at the US Open. After all, we’re talking consistency, and that’s what really counts on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour.

“If you play consistent, you can be very highly ranked,” said Venus Williams, Serena’s older sister. “I guess it’s all about playing consistent these days.”

Kim Clijsters knows something about being ranked number one in the world. She held that lofty spot herself some six years ago.
“It’s just a matter of consistency,” Clijsters said. “It’s the biggest key.”

If nothing else, Dinara Safina is consistent. She entered the US Open with the best main draw match winning percentage on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour with a 52-12 win-loss record. The Russian is one of four players to have won three titles this year, and she has reached the semifinals or better in the last four Grand Slam tournaments.

She also has consistently failed to come away from one of the sport’s four major tournaments with the championship bling. And that’s why there is controversy about her number one ranking.

“The poor girl, she’s trying her best,” said someone who should know, Marat Safin, Dinara’s brother and a former number one on the men’s tour. “She gets the attention, but not the kind of attention that a person deserves, especially when you’re number one in the world.

“Everybody is giving her hard time about, ‘Are you really number one in the world?’ Yes, yes, she’s really number one in the world. Go check on the ranking. She didn’t do the ranking.”

The burden of expectations proved Thursday to be almost heavier on Safina than the weight of her opponent’s shots. For her second straight match at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, Safina fought through her nerves as well as over-matched opponents.

She advanced to the third round by outlasting Germany’s Kristina Barrois 6-7 (5) 6-2 6-3, but instilled no fear in her future foes. As she did in her opener, another three-setter, Safina survived her own twin terrors of double faults and unforced errors.
“She was playing better at the end, serving better,” said Barrois, who turns 28 at the end of this month but has been a professional player for only three years. “I’m disappointed I came close. It was close, but not close enough.”

Barrois was playing in just her second US Open, losing in the opening round a year ago. Safina, on the other hand, was a finalist at both the Australian and French Opens earlier this year, falling to Serena Williams “Down Under” and Svetlana Kuznetsova in Paris.
That history made no difference under the bright skies and strong sunshine at Louis Armstrong Stadium. For most of the match, Barrois played Safina evenly, for better or worse. The world’s top player had 38 unforced errors, five fewer than her opponent; Barrois had six double faults, Safina 15.

“In the first set I played on my highest level,” the German said. “At the end she was serving well. The important thing is how you play the important points.”

For the second straight match, Safina was forced to go three sets. For the second straight match, she emerged the winner. That’s what number ones do.

American teen-ager Melanie Oudin pulled off the tournament’s first big upset, knocking off fourth-seeded Elena Dementieva 5-7 6-4 6-3. The 17-year-old is no stranger to the big stage, having reached the fourth round at Wimbledon earlier this summer.

“I played with no fear today,” said Oudin, a 17-year-old from Marietta, Georgia. “She’s expected to win and I just went out there and played my game and I came out with a win.”

Sixth-seeded Jelena Jankovic followed Dementieva out of the tournament, falling to Yaroslava Shvedova of Kazakhstan 6-3 6-7 (4) 7-6 (6). Jankovic, who held the world number one ranking at the beginning of this year, said the death of her grandmother Wednesday night was uppermost in her mind rather than the match.

Safina may have been able to have had a much easier day. She had two set points in the 12th game of the opening set, when Barrois double-faulted to 30-40 and again at ad point following a razor-sharp backhand pass down the line. But Barrois was able to hold and send the set into a tiebreak.

Of the 12 points played, seven went against serve. Barrois took the lead when Safina double-faulted at set point. Safina wasted no time moving out front in the second set. But Barrois broke back in the fourth game.

“I play a lot of slice,” Barrois said. “She likes a heavy ball, so I play slice to her and short.”

That strategy worked until unforced errors began overwhelming the German’s game. At the same time, Safina finally was able to quiet her nerves and cut down on her mistakes.

After Safina took a 4-3 lead in the final set, breaking her opponent in the seventh game at 30, Barrois jumped out to 0-40 advantage, triple break point, thanks to two double faults and a wild forehand that sailed wide. Safina won the next two points before Barrios had an open court but sailed a backhand long.

She bent over and buried her head into her hands, knowing her best chance at an upset had disappeared.

Safina finally held to 5-3 , then broke Barrois at love to advance to a third-round meeting against Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic, who beat Italy’s Tathiana Garbin 6-1 6-3.

A Long Time Since Clijsters Last Lost At US Open

NEW YORK – The last time Kim Clijsters lost a match on the hard courts of Arthur Ashe Stadium, Roger Federer had yet to win the year’s final Grand Slam tournament.

This year, Federer is seeking his sixth straight US Open title. Clijsters is going for her second in a row, yet she’s not the defending women’s singles champion. That honor goes to Serena Williams.

On Wednesday, Clijsters increased her winning match streak at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center to nine by eliminating 14th-seeded Marion Bartoli 5-7 6-1 6-2.

“I stayed focused, I stayed aggressive, and really worked out a game plan that beat her today,” Clijsters said. “I think that’s something that’s even more rewarding when you win a match like this.”

Clijsters captured her first Grand Slam singles crown in New York in 2005, then was forced to miss the 2006 US Open when she re-injured her left wrist. In 2007, the Belgium native retired from the sport, married an American basketball player and gave birth to a daughter. Now 26, Clijsters decided to return to the women’s tour earlier this year and is playing in only her third tournament since ending her retirement.

“It was a nice feeling to have in Cincinnati, Toronto, knowing that I was capable of beating some of those top 10 players again,” Clijsters said. “That was a good feeling to have because that was something that I didn’t know what it was going to be like out there playing those girls again.

“But I haven’t played the big ones yet, Venus (Williams), Serena, (Maria) Sharapova, (Elena) Dementieva. I haven’t played those girls yet. Hopefully I’ll give myself a shot at doing that here.”

The last time Clijsters lost on the hard courts in Flushing Meadows was to fellow Belgian Justine Henin in the 2003 title match. She then missed the tournament in 2004 after undergoing surgery on her left wrist. The following year, she finally won a Grand Slam tournament title by beating Mary Pierce in the final of the US Open.
Then came another injury and her retirement.

Bartoli wasn’t the only seeded woman to fell Wednesday.

Fourteenth-seeded Amelie Mauresmo was ousted by Canada’s Aleksandra Wozniak 6-4 6-0; Russian Maria Kirilenko eliminated No. 12 Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland 6-4 2-6 6-4; American Vania King shocked No. 15 Samantha Stosur of Australia 7-5 6-4; and Kirsten Flipkens of Belgium upset No. 20 Anabel Medina Garrigues of Spain 6-1 6-3.

Clijsters’ win over Bartoli, while technically an upset, wasn’t unexpected. Clijsters, after all, had been ranked number one in the world in 2003, and despite her inactivity she still has the game to be one of the top players. Plus, she played – and beat – Bartoli in her first tournament back, at Cincinnati where she reached the quarterfinals.

“I think it’s still a bit early for me to say after three weeks how the depth is in women’s tennis,” Clijsters said. “On the other hand, having seen a lot of the results lately I do think that a lot of girls can beat a lot of top players. But I think the consistency is what’s lacking.

“I think the consistency is what makes you a top 10 player these days. You know, we can all play tennis. We can all hit the ball hard. There’s a lot better athletes out there these days in the lower-ranked category.

“But it’s just a matter of consistency. It’s the biggest key. That’s what sets you apart from being a top 10 player or a top 50 or a top 100 player.”

Federer moved a step closer to his sixth straight title with a hard-fought victory over Simon Greul of Germany 6-3 7-5 7-5.
Wednesday saw the final US Open appearance of Marat Safin, a surprise US Open champion in 2000. The Russian, who is retiring after this year, fell to Jurgen Melzer of Austria 1-6 6-4 6-3 6-4.

“It’s the end. It’s the last one,” Safin said. “Could have been better ending, but still OK. I’m looking forwards to afterwards my career, so I have no regrets. And I don’t care about losses anymore.”

Frenchman Fabrice Santoro, who also is retiring after this season, saw it differently.

“I love my sport,” said Santoro, who lost to 24th-seeded Juan Carlos Ferrero of Spain 6-4 6-3 6-3. “I did it in this life for so many years. I was so happy to be on the court. You can’t do it if you’re not completely in love with your sport.

“Now I’m going to change, and I want to be home. I want to see my friends; I want to spend more time with my daughter. I want to live like normal life.

“But that’s the question: What is a normal life?”