September 1, 2008 / 5:58 PM / 9 years ago

Exhausted Safina delighted to stay alive

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A pep talk from coach Zeljko Krajan rescued an exhausted Dinara Safina’s U.S. Open dreams on Monday.

Dinara Safina of Russia hits a return shot to Anna-Lena Groenefeld of Germany during their match at the U.S. Open tennis tournament at Flushing Meadows in New York, September 1, 2008. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

Safina’s pursuit of a maiden grand slam title gathered momentum when she defeated German qualifier Anna-Lena Groenefeld 7-5 6-0 but the teary-eyed Russian later revealed she almost did not make it to court for the fourth-round match.

“I didn’t expect to win (today) because I was just so exhausted,” said the Russian sixth seed, who has reached six finals in her last seven tournaments.

”I finished the warm-up and I just said, I cannot push myself anymore. I could not stop from crying.

”(My coach) said, ‘We know that you’re not a machine. Just go on the court and do whatever you can this day. If it’s 20 percent left in your body, just give this 20 percent.

“‘Don’t use another percent just throwing the balls around and shouting. Whatever you have, just try to concentrate and put it into the game.’ So that’s what I did today.”

Krajan’s words of wisdom certainly paid dividends on Monday.

Groenefeld tried her best to rattle Safina when she stormed back from 4-2 down in the opening set to level at 5-5.

But that ended up being the last game the 141st-ranked Groenefeld won as Safina stayed calm and pounded down a string of sizzling groundstrokes to win in 75 minutes.

Safina said if it had not been for the influence of her Croatian coach, she would probably have been catching an early flight home.

“I’ve grown up a lot in the mind. A year ago I would not be able to do these kind of things,” said Safina, who will next face Italy’s Flavia Pennetta.

”Maybe even the (third round) match before against (Timea) Baczinsky I would have already lost. But somehow I started to control better myself.

”You have a trust in the coach, so he understands me and I understand him, so that’s why somehow it’s easier that I can express my emotions.

“I didn’t play my best but that I went through. This was the most important, because now I have one day off, and hopefully I can be 100 percent for my next one.”

The Russian is one of four players who could topple Ana Ivanovic, who lost in the second round, from the top spot next week.

Editing by Miles Evans

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