Safina basks in top-spot glory

ROME - World number one Dinara Safina knows she's a marked woman, but the 23-year-old Russian is enjoying her new, lofty position in women's tennis.

ROME - World number one Dinara Safina knows she's a marked woman, but the 23-year-old Russian is enjoying her new, lofty position in women's tennis.

Safina, the younger sister of former men's number one Marat Safin, ascended to the top spot in the WTA rankings on April 20 and since then has reached two finals and won one title.

Having dismantled compatriot Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-3, 6-2 on the clay at the Foro Italico here on Saturday, just a week after she lost to her fellow 23-year-old in the Stuttgart final, Safina admitted she is happy to be the target for the other players.

But, having had to fight back from a set down three times on the way to the Rome final, she said she had already felt the difference in being the one everyone wants to beat.

"When they step on the court they have nothing to lose. It's the same as what happened to me last year," she said.

"Whenever I was playing somebody who was number one, you just go out there and you swing. Whatever you do is great.

"Like when I played Justine Henin last year, I didn't care, I was swinging at the ball and everything was landing in.

"The same is happening with them. But this is a nice challenge and I'm enjoying this challenge; to prove that I am better than them."

Last year, as the world number 17, Safina took on Henin on clay in Berlin and despite dropping the first set, she went on to win the match and the title, the first of four she won last year.

Henin swiftly announced her retirement.

Since then it has been onwards and upwards for the Russian, who then reached her first Grand Slam final at Roland Garros, losing to Ana Ivanovic before also reaching the final of the Australian Open this year.

Now that she has reached number one in the world, and proved that she is the form woman on clay, she can look forward to the French Open as one of the favourites at the end of the month.

"I'm feeling great, it gives me lots of confidence winning here, especially as I've started the clay court season with one final and one title," she said.

"It could not be better. So now I'm going to Madrid and I'm just going to continue playing the same way and keep on going one match at a time," she said. - Sapa-AFP

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