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Friday, January 30, 2009
Updated: January 31, 9:38 AM ET
Australian Open final instant analysis

By Ravi Ubha
Special to

Editor's note: Serena Williams and Dinara Safina squared off for the Australian Open title. If you missed any of it, Ravi Ubha provided instant analysis through the duration of the match.

Second set

The packed crowd at Rod Laver Arena desperately wants better than this, and they get behind Safina when she offers a good reply that forces an error. A little opening for 15-30. A first break point at last, when Williams hits a backhand wide.

Safina gets a second serve -- she's only won one point on Williams' first -- and thuds a backhand return winner cross court for 1-0. The crowd erupts.

Let's hope we have a match.

Safina needs to be good and lucky to make this more competitive, and it comes at 15-all. Williams pushes Safina around the baseline, prompting a short backhand reply. At the net, Williams sends an easy forehand volley wide. Safina sighs in relief.

No matter for Williams, who's quickly in the ascendancy again. At 15-30, Williams strikes an angled cross-court backhand that Safina can't do much with. Two more break points. One saved, but Safina sends a backhand long for 1-1.

At least she's on the board.

Williams muscles a forehand into the corner to hold at love for 2-1.

An ominous stat for Safina: According to the folks at the WTA Tour, Williams is 34-0 when winning the first set at the Australian Open.

"Dinara needs a lot of first serves or a power failure," says Alicia Molik, a former Aussie pro in the Channel 7 broadcast booth. "What we're seeing from Serena Williams is a player in THE zone."

Perusing the stats in the middle of the next game, at 0-30, reveals Safina has won nine (yes, nine) percent of points behind her second serve. It's not much better on the first: 41 percent.

Safina needs a rally, and she offers us hope by taking a 40-30 lead. No surprise that with the way things are going, Safina deposits a backhand into the net. Deuce.

In trouble on a second serve, Safina uncorks an ace out wide and follows with an unforced error for deuce No. 2. Safina tries to repeat the feat, but Williams is waiting for it, steps up and smacks a forehand cross-court winner.

Cue the double fault, No. 5, and the end is high. 3-1 Williams.

How many better big-game players have there been recently? Speaking of Williams, of course.

Two service winners bring it up to 30-0, and Safina bounces her racket twice in frustration.

"Serena's too good," Molik says.

Another hold at love, 4-1.

At this point, it's probably too much to ask for Safina to win, or even take matters to a third set. Keeping it close would do.

Safina goes up 40-0, but in this match, you're not sure she'll hold. At 40-15, Williams obliges by netting a backhand well wide and indeed holds for yes, the first time. 4-2.

A little glimmer of hope at 15-0 in the next game. Safina is in a good position to smack a forehand into a semi-open court, but misses into the net.

Williams hasn't had much reason to pump her fist this match -- it's been that lopsided -- but does so after crunching a cross-court forehand winner for 5-2.

Time to look at the positives for Safina. She had another solid tournament, reaching a Grand Slam final for the second time in the last four tries. Besides Williams, she's arguably the second-biggest threat on hard courts.

Back to reality, and Safina's night is summed up when she whiffs on a forehand short in the court. 15-30. Nice to see what happens, then, immediately after. A great angled forehand winner pulls it to 30-all, with a forehand winner hitting both corners for 40-30. One more game and Safina gets three, surpassing Sanchez-Vicario's total in '94.

Williams isn't so accommodating, as -- yawn -- another forehand return winner brings it to deuce. Safina eventually holds when a backhand return sails wide. 5-3.

As one-sided as this match has been, Safina is only a break down. Let's see if the nerves get to Williams.

Safina has to go for it, and does, but misses with a second serve return long. An ace down the middle -- her fourth ace -- makes it 30-0, and three championship points are up next thanks to a forced error.

She only needs the one, as Safina sends a drop shot wide. 6-0, 6-3 in 59 minutes.

Grand Slam No. 10 it is.

To have any chance of winning, Safina needed to serve big, avoiding the double faults. It didn't happen.

Her first serve percentage finished at 54, and she won just 52 percent of points behind it. Behind her second serve, a paltry 24 percent of points were won.

But to focus on Safina wouldn't do Williams justice. On this form, no one comes close to beating her: 23 winners, seven unforced errors and one point dropped behind first serve. Wow.

The Serena Slam is on.

Time for the presentation ceremony. Williams, already the career leader in prize money among female athletes, picks up a further $2 million Australian ($1.28 million). You can bet she won't be flying coach back to Florida.

Safina begins and her charm is on show, despite the score. "Not much to say," she began. "I didn't even spend an hour on court. She played too good. I was just a ball boy today."

Williams is up next.

"I want to thank my mom for hanging in there the first week," she says, referring to Oracene Price, also her coach. "The first week was tough, but we got through it."

Almost forgetting to thank the sponsors, she suddenly remembers and gets the crowd going with, "Garnier, I love the sugar scrubs. My skin is like a baby."

She's sure grown up on the court.

First set

Yes, those pregame interviews still very much feature at Grand Slams, and Safina sounds nervous. Besides uttering she was looking forward to the affair, she stated it was her third final this year. Not so, of course. Hope, for her sake, she thinks more clearly on court.

Williams offers up, "I'm just going to enjoy myself today."

Good conditions await both. Melbourne's heat wave now subsided, temperatures hover at about 79 degrees under partly cloudy skies.

And we're off.

Williams complained about her first serve percentage this month, but she gets her first delivery in and follows it up with a cross-court backhand winner. Up 30-0, we get to 40-30, and Safina hits a meek forehand into the net.

Williams 1-0.

Safina needs to keep up with Williams early, or you feel this one might get ugly. Hitting an ace down the middle -- it caught the back of the line -- helps for 15-0. Next point, though, Safina hits another double fault, her 41st of the tournament. Tall and thus with a big wingspan, that's countered by only 15 aces.

Down 15-30, Safina gets ahead at 40-30, running around to hit a forehand winner as she approaches the net. Nice and positive. Hold the phone -- another double fault brings it to deuce.

Did we mention Safina has an extremely high ball toss?

Uh-oh. Williams conjures up the first break point by smacking a forehand cross-court return. Guess what happens next? A double fault, and Williams breaks for 2-0.

Serena is smoking. An ace, inside out forehand and forehand down the line makes it 40-0. "Her footwork out here is amazing," says Tracy Austin, commentating for Australia's Channel 7.

An easy hold for 3-0 -- in 11 minutes.

Just to get it out of the way now, the fewest number of games conceded in a women's final at the Australian Open is two. It happened twice, the last in 1994 when Steffi Graf routed Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario 6-0, 6-2.

No letting up for Safina. Williams comes out and hits two more winners, the first with a backhand drive volley in the corner. Another winner and it's 15-40, two more break points.

Safina is struggling with her first serve, yet finally gets one in. No good, however, as Williams bosses the rally and breaks again. 4-0.

"This resembles the final she played against Maria Sharapova," said former doubles standout Todd Woodbridge, also working for Channel 7.

Williams downed Sharapova 6-1, 6-2 in 2007.

Another easy hold, at love, for Serena, and it's 5-0 following 18 minutes. Williams is usually a slow starter, isn't she? Safina has won seven points so far.

The first point of the sixth game sums up Safina's woes. She pushes Williams around the baseline and gets an easy put away near the net, only to send a forehand long. A backhand error ensues for 0-30.

Safina went all out against Vera Zvonareva in the semifinals and it paid off. She has to do the same here, it seems. More aggressive, Safina coughs up two more errors to end the set. 6-0. It's the first opening set in a women's final here that's finished 6-0 since 1994.

Eight points won for Safina. Williams hit 12 winners and two unforced errors. She can't keep this up, can she?

Serena wins the first set, 6-0.


Dinara Safina is a trouper. Everywhere she goes, she gets asked, "How nice would it be to win a Grand Slam title?" like her colorful big brother, Marat Safin, or something to that effect. Safina gamely answers all questions, throwing in the cheeky grin and witty replies that run in the family.

Safina can stop the queries by claiming a first major in her second appearance in a Grand Slam final. The 22-year-old fell short against Ana Ivanovic at Roland Garros in June.

"When I came there, I was, you know, nobody believed I can be there," the third seed said. "Also me. I was like, 'Take one match at a time, one match at a time.'"

Now she feels she can mix it with the elite.

Unfortunately for Safina, her foe is an old pro on the big occasion. Serena Williams is gunning for a 10th major and fourth in Australia. If that's not daunting enough, the 27-year-old is 3-0 in previous Aussie Open finals, and 9-3 in Grand Slam finals altogether.

The tennis gods might be on Williams' side, too. Every other year since 2003, Williams has triumphed here. Note, however, that like in Paris, Safina saved match points en route to the farewell weekend.

As in 2007, Williams struggled early this fortnight, edging Victoria Azarenka and Svetlana Kuznetsova, before lifting her game against the hottest player around, Elena Dementieva. Williams crushed Safina in both their hard-court tilts in 2008, dropping five games each time.

"I'm just going out there and trying to win another Grand Slam," said Williams, seeded second, for whatever that's worth. "If I win, that would be great. If I lose, I'll just leave with the confidence that I can get far in a tournament when I'm not playing my best and go home and work even harder for the next time."

The No. 1 ranking is also at stake, though that won't mean as much as a Slam.

Ravi Ubha is a frequent contributor to