Top-ranked Safina makes unlucky exit

The way the song goes, one is the loneliest number.

Thursday at the L.A. Women’s Tennis Championships in Carson, it was also the unluckiest.

Dinara Safina, the No. 1 player in the world and top seeded in the 56-player singles draw, was upset in the third round. Safina, the defending champion, followed Ana Ivanovic, who lost here last year while ranked No. 1.

Safina was defeated, 7-5, 4-6, 6-4, by eighth-seeded Jie Zheng, a player Safina had beaten in four previous meetings, most recently in Rome.


But Zheng, ranked 23rd, has given her trouble as two of those four matches, including the most recent, went to the third set

Which it did again Thursday night.

Their styles and statures opposed the other, making it a match not of who was stronger, quicker, or more accurate, but of whose style was best suited to defeat the other.

Safina’s long, powerful frame serves a heavy ball and a heavier return, but Zheng, who is slight but has strong legs and is quick along the baseline, was able to chase down and retrieve any shot Safina could muster.


Trailing 30-0 in the eighth game of the second set, Safina charged the net, ready to slam a winner after a furious rally. Twice she fired, but Zheng returned each time, the last a brilliant shot just out of Safina’s reach. Zheng would win that game but lose the set.

It seemed going into the third set that Safina carried momentum, but Zheng didn’t retreat.

At match point, trailing 40-0, Safina’s backhand return went straight into the net, and that was it.

“I know she has the big serve but her moving is not so well and her backhand is much better than forehand, so I tried to get her forehand more and get her more moving,” Zheng said.


Said Safina: “This match, I didn’t do the right things. But I think today she played better. I think she had chances to beat me in Rome she didn’t use, so today basically she took her chances.”

Zheng advances to today’s quarterfinals to play Samantha Stosur, who beat Ivanovic, seeded sixth, in straight sets, 6-3, 6-2.

Stosur has made something of a habit of toppling top players. Ivanovic became the sixth top-15 player this year whom Stosur had defeated and the second former No. 1 player in straight weeks after she defeated Serena Williams at Stanford.

“I lost to her only about a month ago at Wimbledon so I was expecting it to be hard and wasn’t going to take anything for granted,” said Stosur, seeded ninth.


Said Ivanovic: “I was a little bit disappointed. I think it was maybe a lot closer than the results indicate.”

It wasn’t all bad news for other top players.

Maria Sharapova topped Alona Bondarenko, 4-6, 6-0, 6-3, to defeat the player who beat her in Sharapova’s first tournament back after a 10-month layoff following shoulder surgery.

“It was good to win, to get my revenge,” Sharapova said.


Vera Zvonareva, ranked No. 7 in the world, also moved on, beating Yanina Wickmayer, 7-6(5), 4-6, 6-4. She’ll face Flavia Pennetta, ranked 15th, who upset Nadia Petrova, ranked 10th, in the quarterfinals.

For Ivanovic, her defeat would seem like a step back in her quest to reclaim the status she once held, but getting back to that point is the issue.

“Off the court I know it perfectly and I can tell everyone what’s best and how it should be,” said the 21-year-old Serb. “But obviously when I’m on the court and emotions kick in then it’s very hard and I start to over-analyze everything and doubt a lot of things.”

How does she overcome that?


“I’m still working on that part,” she said, smiling.