PARIS — This is like Ohio State-Michigan, if I may use a fierce American football rivalry and apply it to tennis. What I have in mind is a great long-time Russian rivalry – Moscow and St. Petersburg – and a representative of each bumping heads with the Championship of France at stake.
Both are 23, proud to have put together the second all-Russian French final. But they come from cities that think ill of each other. That’s OK with Svetlana (Koozy) Kuznetsova from St. Pete and Dinara Safina, the Muscovite. They’re friendly, but their rivalry is hot, now stretched out to a 14th match to decide who will wear the French crown.
Poor Dinara. She’s No. 1 in the world, but nobody wants to believe it. She doesn’t own a major title, and a Ms. No. 1 ought to have one, don’t you think? She lost this final last year to the since-wayward Ana Ivanovic, and the Australian final this year, beaten badly, 6-0, 6-3 by Serena Williams. Dinara thinks of herself as No. 1 because Medusa, the scatterbrain WTA computer, says so. But she really needs a major for her own sanity.
On the other side of the net, Koozy, is No 7, but she owns a major, the U.S. Open of 2004, and she seems to have a firmer grip on her nerves these days.
She lost the middle set in her last 3 wins (over Aggie Radwanska, Serena and Sam Stosur), suffering the famous Koozy Quivers, but straightening up in time to march into the final.
It was good to see the tall Aussie, Sam Stosur in the semis. She was the outsider at No. 32, but very good news to her island homeland that used to mean so much in the game. When Sam charged back into the match from 2-5 in the tie-breaker, winning 5 successive points, Koozy began to quiver. She was worried until she ducked a break point to 3-2 in the decisive set, and took the Aussie’s serve, for 4-2 – Quivers gone, she won, 6-4, 6-7 (5-7), 6-3.
Thirty years have passed since an Aussie femme did so well in Paris. Wendy (Rabbit) Turnbull was in the 1979 final, losing – everybody did – to Chris Evert. Evonne Goolagong was the last Aussie champ in 1971.
The other losing semifinalist, teeny Slovak Dominika Cibulkova, must have felt like a 6-footer among the giants of the NBA. At 5-foot-3 she was 9 inches shorter than Safina. Still she ran all over the place, battled well in Dinara’s 6-3, 6-3, victory.
That brought Safina, loser of only one set, into the final, yet another round in the St. Petersburg-Moscow rivalry. Safina leads 8-5, her triumph in the Italian Open final her most impressive. I’ll bet both of them could outrun the Ohio State and Michigan football teams.