Safina Sets Up Showdown With Serena

MELBOURNE, Australia — Dinara Safina overpowered her fellow Russian Vera Zvonareva 6-3, 7-6 on Thursday to join American Serena Williams in the final of the Australian Open.

The combination of Safina's heavier shot-making and aggression proved too much for Zvonareva as the third seed closed out victory in 1 hour and 46 minutes under a closed roof at the Rod Laver center court.

Safina won four games in a row to take the opening set after trailing 2-3 then broke Zvonareva's brittle serve to force the tiebreak after the seventh seed blew her chance to force a deciding third set.

The 22-year-old Safina reached the French Open final last year but is now on the verge of a first grand slam title after rebounding from a shaky start in the tournament to produce her best performance when it mattered most.

The winner of Saturday's final will receive the added bonus of taking over the world No. 1 ranking from Serbia's Jelena Jankovic, who was knocked out in the fourth round at Melbourne Park this year.

"Since I was growing up, it has been my dream one day to be No. 1," Safina said in a courtside interview. "To play against Serena and to fight for the No. 1 is just going to be unbelievable."

Safina is also trying to complete a unique family double in Australia by emulating her older brother Marat Safin, who won the men's singles title in 2005.

"I watched my brother on TV winning this tournament, and even when I watch it now I have tears in my eyes," Safina said. "It is great that I can follow his footsteps because he was my idol, and he is still my idol."

Safina had struggled throughout the tournament, even surviving two match points against French teenager Alize Cornet in the fourth round, but was at her best against Zvonareva.

She still committed 42 unforced errors, but there was no repeat of the lapses in concentration that plagued her in the early rounds.

"Dinara was more consistent today than I was," Zvonareva said. "She served better than I did, and that made the difference. If you look at it overall, it's my first grand slam semifinal. I should be satisfied."

Zvonareva, who had won all her previous matches in straight sets, made a nervous start to her maiden grand slam semifinal, double-faulting on the second point of the match to concede her opening service game to love.

The 24-year-old Muscovite steadied herself to comfortably hold her next service game then started attacking Safina's serve, which was starting to show signs of vulnerability.

Zvonareva broke back to level at 2-2, then held again to lead 3-2 before Safina seized control, cutting down on her errors and putting the pressure back on her opponent.

Safina, who has shed 7 kilograms in the last year and showed off her new figure in a canary yellow shirt and black skirt, reeled off the next four games to wrap up the opening set in 39 minutes off a Zvonareva backhand error.

Zvonareva broke Safina's serve in the fifth game of the second set but failed to capitalize on her advantage.
She dropped her next service game and her frustrations started to boil over when she disputed a line call with American chair umpire Lynn Welch then slapped the ball away in anger.

Zvonareva had the chance to force a third set when she broke in the 11th game but failed to hold and lost the tiebreak and the match on a crosscourt forehand winner from Safina.