Tennis Player Dinara Safina Leaps Out of Big Brother's Shadow

At 6 feet 4 inches, 195 pounds, Marat Safina casts an enormous shadow. But it is his tennis resume -- two Grand Slam singles titles and two other finals -- that has always defined Dinara Safina as the little sister.

On Sunday, here at Roland Garros, that may have changed.

Down to Maria Sharapova 1-5 in the third set, the 20-year-old Russian somehow won the last six games of their fourth-round match and knocked the No. 4 seed out of the tournament, 7-5, 2-6, 7-5. The grinding match consumed 2 hours, 34 minutes.

For the second straight round, Dinara Safina will face a fellow Russian, No. 8 Svetlana Kuznetsova.

Safina is into the first Grand Slam quarterfinal of her young career.

"I think it's unbelievable what I did, just to come back," she said later. "I took everything in my hands. Before, she was dictating. I always had to run from corner to corner. I said, 'OK, now I try to make her run.'

"I started to look for the lines and I started to be more aggressive from every point. I finished my way today. I just didn't want to leave the court."

Getting 'Match-Tough'

Safina held serve at 1-5, and Sharapova found herself two points from the match, serving at 5-2, 30-all. But she couldn't close the deal.

"The game at 5-2 opened up the door a little bit for her," Sharapova said. "You know, you get hit in the head. That's just what happens."

Sharapova, who has been nursing a tender right foot, withdrew from two tournaments before Roland Garros -- Rome and Istanbul.

"I haven't played a lot of matches in the past weeks, and I don't feel like I'm match-tough yet," she said. "In that first set, I should have [also] closed it out."

Indeed, Sharapova led Safina 5-3 to open the match and collapsed, losing the last four games of the set.

Another Challenge Ahead

You could see this result coming -- from both sides. Sharapova's power game does not play well on the slow red clay and she struggled mightily in her first-round match with Mashona Washington. Safina, on the other hand, has been playing her best tennis -- ever.

Two weeks ago in Rome, she reached her first significant singles final, authoring three top-10 victories to get there, against Kim Clijsters (No. 2), Elena Dementieva (No. 8) and Svetlana Kuznetsova (No. 10). And though she lost in the final to Martina Hinigs, her WTA Tour ranking soared to a career-best No. 16. She has moved steadily up the ladder -- No. 68 in 2002, No. 54 in 2003, No. 44 in 2004 and No. 20 in 2005 -- and now contemplates the final step, into the top 10.

Waiting in the quarters is her fellow countrywoman, Kuznetsova, who was a winner over Francesca Schiavone. Safina, only the sixth-ranked Russian on the WTA Tour, downplayed the intra-country rivalry.

"It is just another player," Safina said. "Doesn't matter who I'm playing against. I just step on the court and I give my hundred percent. I want to beat."

After the match, Safina said she received a text message from Marat, who lost as an unseeded player in the first round to Fernando Gonzalez.

"Great fight, good comeback," the message said from the older brother of Dinara Safina.

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