The first thing to say about Dinara Safina's apparent premature retirement from the sport at the age of 25 is that she has been desperately unlucky.
Her brother Marat has announced the decision for her, which seems
like a rather strange set of circumstances. I'd like to wait for her to say it
herself, but it would not surprise me given what has gone on in recent times.
Two years ago, she was world
number one. She was a massive trier, with a huge game and massive shots. She
thoroughly deserved it, but then the confidence went because of the injuries.
A few injuries took hold, but particularly
the back problems. It has never been right, and I think tennis has been torture
for her over the past couple of years. It is very, very sad.
At the back of her mind, she must have been thinking 'how
long can I play at any level?' The injury was always there. She went through a
lot of mental torture in the past couple of years.
How much of that was a contributing factor to this decision? Only she really
knows. It was awful viewing watching her play in the past couple of years -
never a happy sight.
I really think she stopped enjoying her tennis. I think the
back wasn't allowing her to win big matches, or to be competitive at the level she
had been at previously.
She just couldn't get a run going with her ranking down in
the 70s. I interviewed her once in the past couple of years, and found her to
be a good woman.
Being Marat's younger sister was a good thing and a bad thing. It helped her drive towards the top in the world, but there was
perhaps a part of her trying too hard to prove herself to him.
I think she was known as Marat's young sister - which I'm not
sure if that always helped - but I think he did pass on a lot of advice to help
her as much as possible.
Who knows if she can come back? Martina Hingis came back after three
years out. Maybe she can.
She doesn't have Hingis's courtcraft. So much of her game
was a physical game. She had an enormous physical presence - she was 6ft tall
and worked hard at getting a muscular body.
Hingis was more about courtcraft that you don't really lose. If
her back is totally healed, maybe she can come back in a couple of years. But I
think it would have to be totally healed.
Maybe some time away from the game mentally may help. It is
difficult to know if there was a mental input into this. I suspect there was,
but only she would know.
The way she serves puts huge stress on the back. I think her
serve contributed to that. I am amazed Andy Roddick hasn't had more issues the
way he bends his back in serving.
In a time when women's tennis needs stars, to lose someone
like her is a wrench. Yes, there will be other players that come along and fill
her boots, but at the moment they are taking their time to come through.
Dinara was a very identifiable player. I don't think her
style was like her brother. She was more a manufactured player, but she was a
manufactured player of some substance.
To get to number one
in the world tells you that. She got to the final of the French Open in 08' and
09' but frustratingly never won a Slam.
I don't remember watching a player who wanted to be the best
and win Grand Slams so much, but I think in the end that hunger and desire started to
work against her.
Especially over the past couple of years with the back injury and bad luck that has brought about this decision.