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Top-seeded Safina ousted by Rezai in second round at Rogers Cup

TORONTO - World No. 1 Dinara Safina will have plenty of time to prepare for the U.S. Open - and so will many other top-ranked players.

TORONTO - World No. 1 Dinara Safina will have plenty of time to prepare for the U.S. Open - and so will many other top-ranked players.

Safina committed 17 double faults in a second-round meltdown Wednesday, dropping a 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 decision to 39th-ranked Aravane Rezai of France at the US$2-million Rogers Cup.

The top seed watched her coach leave the stadium before the match was over, slammed her racket to the ground after the final point and barely shook hands with an elated Rezai after the match.

In the post-match interview, a downtrodden Safina sounded like someone who needed a break.

"I will take a few days off," said Safina. "I think this is the best . . . you know, just to recover, and rest. Not much you can do, you know?"

Safina's was the latest - and most surprising - in a string of high-profile upsets over the first three days of the main draw. Six of the top 10 seeds have been eliminated, including Safina, No. 3 Venus Williams, No. 6 Svetlana Kuznetsova and No. 8 Caroline Wozniacki.

An early ouster might be a positive for players who wouldn't mind a little rest time ahead of the U.S. Open, which gets underway Aug. 31. But it's a nightmare for Rogers Cup organizers who have been boasting about the strength of the field for weeks - especially with no Canadians left in either the singles or doubles draw.

Unseeded Maria Sharapova, who advanced to the third round with a straight-sets win over Austria's Sybille Bammer, said she didn't see any competitive advantage gained by the exodus of seeded players.

"It means absolutely nothing to me, because I look forward to my next opponent, whoever that may be, top seed or not," said Sharapova, who will face No. 7 Vera Zvonareva in the round of 16.

"You certainly don't wish that the top players lose or go down, that's just the way the tournament goes."

Second-seeded American Serena Williams bucked the trend in evening action, cruising into the third round with a 6-3, 6-2 win over Kazakhstan's Yaroslava Shvedova. Williams broke away with a run of eight straight points in the second set, and took a commanding 5-2 lead with a lunging forehand winner that left her doing the splits, pumping her fist in jubilation.

"I'm really flexible," said Williams. "I love doing the splits off the court . . . I never really expect to do it on the court per se. On the hardcourt sometimes you can slide, and before you know it you just do the splits.

"It was a great moment. I was like 'Oh my God,' I couldn't believe I hit the ball down the line and won the point. I was so shocked."

Williams, who closed things out on serve one game later, will next face Alona Bondarenko of Ukraine, whose sister Kateryna beat Williams' sister Venus in the second round.

"They're great players," said Williams. "They do well in doubles. It'll be a good match, and I look forward to it."

For Safina, Wednesday's match couldn't have gone much worse. The 23-year-old, who was broken three straight times in the third and deciding set, fought her emotions while trying to explain how the match got away.

"It's my brain," said Safina, who lost an opening match for the first time since February. "I know exactly what I have to do, but if I'm not using my brain, I'm not doing the things my coach is telling me . . . (I'm) too disappointed with myself."

When asked what specifically had gone wrong with her serve, Safina rattled off a detailed list: "Ball toss disaster. I don't move my legs, I'm jumping backwards instead of jumping forwards, I'm kicking it too much instead of hitting it more, I drop my head, I don't hold the left arm.

"It's so much. I know this all, and I'm still so stupid that I'm continuing to do it."

Safina enlisted help from her coach during the match - but not even he could help her shake her struggles.

"How can he help me if I'm not doing anything?" said Safina. "I have a game plan and I step on the court, and I do completely the opposite thing.

"He was just frustrated . . . he left the court. He said, 'When I'm telling you one thing, and you do completely the opposite thing and you're losing, you're just moving backwards."'

Rezai felt for Safina.

"I'm very sorry for her because I don't like a player who's not confident," said Rezai. "I prefer to beat a player in good shape. I'm a player that feels when I lose, it's the worst moment in my life."

Four other seeded players fell Wednesday. Wozniacki was beaten 7-5, 6-3 by Jie Zheng of China, No. 9 Victoria Azarenka lost 7-5, 4-6, 6-1 to 2005 Rogers champion Kim Clijsters, No. 12 Flavia Pennetta dropped a 6-3, 6-1 decision to Virginie Razzano of France and No. 16 Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia lost 6-1, 4-6, 7-6 (4) to Alisa Kleybanova of Russia.

Top players advancing included Williams; No. 4 Elena Dementieva, who beat Japan's Ai Sugiyama 6-3, 6-2; No. 5 Jelena Jankovic, who defeated Switzerland's Patty Schnyder 7-5, 6-4; Zvonareva, who got past Italy's Roberta Vinci 6-3, 6-3; and No. 14 Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland, who steamrolled Agnes Szavay of Hungary 6-1, 6-1.

Sharapova, working her way back from a shoulder injury that sidelined her for nearly a year, gutted through an uneven performance in her 6-3, 7-6 (5) win over Bammer. Sharapova made 17 double faults of her own, but broke Bammer five times to earn the win.

"I'm actually having a competition with myself to see how many errors and double faults I can make and still win the match in two sets," Sharapova joked.

"The fact that I served that way and still won the match in two sets is certainly going to give me a lot of confidence when my arm is where it needs to be and when my serve gets to where it has to be."

In other action Wednesday, Shahar Peer of Israel bested Francesca Schiavone of Italy 7-6 (2), 6-4, while Ukraine's Alona Bondarenko cruised past Alla Kudryavtseva of Russia 6-3, 6-0.

 
 
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