PARIS, June 3 – Dinara Safina has lived her life in the huge shadow of big brother Marat Safin, but just two more wins at Roland Garros will at last shift the spotlight onto her, just as he is winding down.
Like Marat, she knows what it’s like to be number one in the world.
Unlike her charismatic brother, she hasn’t yet won a Grand Slam title, coming up heartbreakingly short here in 2008 and then being completely outplayed by Serena Williams at the Australian Open this year.
She may never get a better opportunity than this week.
The world number one, and top seed, tackles Slovakia’s Dominika Cibulkova, the 20th seed, in Thursday’s first semi-final where she will be the overwhelming favourite.
The 23-year-old is the form player on clay in 2009 with her 1-6, 6-4, 6-2 victory over Belarusian ninth seed Victoria Azarenka on Tuesday taking her record on the surface this year to 19 wins in 20 matches.
That run has included titles in Rome and Madrid.
But Safina knows that until she breaks her Grand Slam duck, question marks will remain over her standing in the world rankings, especially as world number two Williams, with 10 majors to her name, lurks as a possible final opponent here on Saturday.
"If I don’t fight in a Grand Slam, being No. 1 in the world, then obviously I’m not deserving of this spot," said Safina.
"I fight till the end. For me the match is never over."
It will all be over for two-time Grand Slam title-winner Marat by the end of 2009 as he has already announced his retirement.
Safina insists that she has thrived by learning to control her emotions on court, a skill usually alien to her brother.
"We’re actually quite different people. It was his weaker part, his emotions. It was also for me. It’s good that I managed to change it. I knew this was my weakness and I dealt with it.
"That’s why I think I did such a big jump."
Pint-sized Cibulkova, the first Slovakian woman to reach the last four at Roland Garros, booked a match-up with Safina by easing past Maria Sharapova 6-0, 6-2.
Such is her confidence at the moment that she came within a point of dealing a humiliating 6-0, 6-0 defeat to the sport’s poster girl before the Russian saved face in their one-sided quarter-final.
This is comfortably Cibulkova’s best Grand Slam performance, having never previously ventured beyond the fourth round.
Cibulkova goes into Thursday’s clash having never won a tour title, but finds herself two wins away from an unlikely Grand Slam breakthrough.