May 17, 2009 / 4:08 PM / 9 years ago

Safina says Rafa is her idol

MADRID (Reuters) - World number one Dinara Safina is using men’s counterpart and claycourt maestro Rafael Nadal as her inspiration as she bids for a first grand slam title at the French Open starting later this month.

The Russian won a second successive claycourt title in Madrid on Sunday when she overpowered Danish teenager Caroline Wozniacki and is hoping to go one better than last year at Roland Garros when she lost in the final to Ana Ivanovic.

World number one Nadal has won four straight French Open crowns and the Spaniard is bidding to become the first player to win all three claycourt Masters events in one year in Sunday’s Madrid Open final against Roger Federer.

“At the moment I can say that my idol is Nadal and I am trying to play like him,” the 23-year-old, younger sister of former men’s number one Marat Safin, told a news conference.

“The truth is I respect him a great deal and I am trying to be at his level.”

Safina took over the top spot from Serena Williams last month and said her recent success should silence critics who have said she does not deserve to be number one without a grand slam to her name.

Williams, who has won 10 grand slam singles titles, said earlier this month that she still rated herself as the world’s best player.

“It was my dream from the beginning, I always believed that I could get it and I was ready for it,” Safina said.

“That’s why I am enjoying it there and since I became number one I am playing better and better.”

She acknowledged there would be more pressure on her to do well in Paris this year.

“I just want to take one match at a time like I always do, give 100 percent effort. Day by day, match by match.

“I think I’m handling it pretty good and I’m playing better than last year.”

Reporting by Iain Rogers; Editing by Sonia Oxley; To query or comment on this story email sportsfeedback@thomsonreuters.com

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