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Safina shrugs off injury with fighting talk

sports Updated: Jan 14, 2010 08:22 IST

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The thrashing Dinara Safina received in last year's Australian Open final could have shattered her confidence, but the Russian has bounced back and is determined to go one better this year.

The shellshocked Safina was whipped 6-0, 6-3 in less than an hour by Serena Williams in the decider at Melbourne Park, not only losing the title but missing out on becoming world number one.

She eventually captured the number one ranking in April but it was Williams who ended the year with the accolade, Safina having to settle for second best.

"After every loss, you get smarter," Safina said, referring to last year's Australian disappointment.

"Unfortunately I couldn't make it last year but I still have a few years ahead of me and I hope I'll get smarter as I get older.

"The most important thing is to just to go out there and play," she added.

"That's it. Not thinking about this is the final and winning, losing. Just, 'this is another match.'"

How she fares this year will depend on her fitness after suffering a lower back injury at the WTA Championships last October.

It kept her out for the remainder of the season and she withdrew from her first tournament this year -- the Brisbane International last week -- saying she needed more treatment.

But the 23-year-old sister of Marat Safin played in the Sydney International this week to help raise her fitness levels.

She insists she is fine and is determined to break her Grand Slam duck, ridding herself of the 'choker' tag she was lumped with after making three Slam finals and losing them all.

"I'm 100 percent. I'm ready to play," she said.

"If I play my best, let's see what can happen.

"I'm happy to be back on court pain-free. It's really like a release because then it was really a disaster.

"After my injury, I want to be healthy. This is the most important thing and the rest will come."

Safina was one of the hottest players on the WTA Tour in 2009 until the injury intervened.

She also made the French Open final but self-destruvted against compatriot Svetlana Kuznetsova, leaving her in tears.

But there were also plenty of highs, with WTA tournament victories in Rome, Madrid and Portoroz in Slovenia and three runner-up spots in Sydney, Stuttgart and Cincinnati.

She began feeling inconvenienced by back pain on her way to her third title of 2009 in Portoroz in July, but was determined to keep playing to stay on course to end the year as world number one.

Safina pumped herself with anti-inflammatories and had cortisone injections but eventually, in her own words, "my body just gave up".

Now back Down Under for another crack at an elusive first Grand Slam title, she is getting into the groove, but admits it is never easy in Australia.

"The jetlag and the heat -- for me, this is the toughest thing about coming to Australia."