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Page last updated at 15:52 GMT, Tuesday, 2 June 2009 16:52 UK

Safina fights back to reach semis

Venue: Roland Garros Date: 24 May - 7 June
Coverage: Live on BBC Red Button, live streaming and daily text commentary on BBC Sport website, commentary on BBC 5 Live Sports Extra, plus updates on BBC Radio 5 Live. TV coverage on Eurosport.

Dinara Safina
Safina celebrates after setting up a semi-final with Dominika Cibulkova

Top seed Dinara Safina survived a stern test from Belarus teenager Victoria Azarenka to reach the semi-finals of the French Open with a 1-6 6-4 6-2 win.

Azarenka attacked from the start and broke three times in the first set.

The Russian was pushed hard in a tight second set too but found it easier in the decider as Azarenka lost her way.

Safina will play Slovakia's Dominika Cibulkova in the last four after the 20th seed ended Maria Sharapova's revival in style, crushing her 6-0 6-2.

Safina had steamrollered her way through her first four matches in Paris - dropping only five games in total - but found Azarenka a different proposition and was quickly a set down after some punishing rallies.

The 19-year-old moved last year's runner-up around the court effectively and had enough power to put her in trouble - taking the set in just 23 minutes.

I guess you could only ask your body to do so much. Everything fell a little short today. The pace wasn't there on my strokes, and I was five steps slower

Maria Sharapova

Safina responded to break and lead 2-1 at the start of the second set and suddenly Azarenka's serve looked vulnerable, with double faults costing her dear as she cracked again to trail 4-1.

But even then, the ninth seed refused to yield and showed the determination that has seen her win three Tour titles this year as she clawed her way back to 4-4.

Big-hitting Safina, 23, needed to reassert herself, and did so in style, immediately breaking again on her way to levelling the match.

And she maintained her momentum in the third set, keeping her cool while Azarenka allowed her emotions to run away with her - hurling her racquet around the court as the match slipped away.

Safina quickly opened out a decisive 4-1 lead before serving out for a hard-fought victory.

"She was playing well, and basically I was not doing anything to complicate it," Safina said of her slow start. "I started to fight point by point just trying to change a little bit.


"She started to miss much more. I think she was missing way too much today. In third set, every time I was break up, but I was always struggling to hold my serve. I'm not really happy with my game today."

Azarenka admitted: "I had lots of chances but didn't take them.

"She stepped it up when she needed to and played well at the key moments. I just have to learn to try and do better next time."

Sharapova, who was playing in only her second tournament after nine months off with a shoulder injury, never looked like continuing her progress.

Cibulkova, 20, won the first 11 games of their match and Sharapova only got on the board after saving a match point with a rare forehand winner.

The former world number one, whose ranking has slipped to 102nd, did at least hold up Cibulkova by winning two games and saving three more match points but she was eventually beaten after an hour and 15 minutes.

"I don't really care about numbers," said Sharapova after the worst Grand Slam defeat of her career. "It's either a 'W' or an 'L', and I prefer 'W'. You know, if it's 7-6 in the third and you come out with a loss, I mean, what's the difference?"

She added: "I guess you could only ask your body to do so much. Everything fell a little short today. The pace wasn't there on my strokes, and I was five steps slower."

Cibulkova said: "It was, I think, more surprising for the people who don't know me, maybe for the crowd, but today I was playing really solid."

The other women's quarter-finals, between Sorana Cirstea and Samantha Stosur and Svetlana Kuznetsova and Serena Williams, will be played on Wednesday.

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see also
French Open day 10 as it happened
02 Jun 09 |  Tennis
Top seed Robson beaten in Paris
02 Jun 09 |  Tennis
Teenager Cirstea shocks Jankovic
01 Jun 09 |  Tennis
Order of play
23 May 09 |  Tennis
Women's singles draw
28 Jan 10 |  Tennis
Men's singles draw
26 Aug 11 |  Tennis

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