PARIS — Venus and Serena Williams have not cornered the market on sibling success in tennis: Dinara Safina and Marat Safin are the first sister and brother to both reach No. 1 in the rankings.
When the French Open starts Sunday, Safina will be seeded No. 1 at a Grand Slam tournament for the first time. Now the Russian wants to win her first major title — and she can turn to Big Brother for all-in-the-family Slam advice.
His best words of wisdom? “You just have to enjoy every moment,” Safina said Friday. “Have to live by the day and enjoy every day.”
Not that she always heeds what Safin says, even if he does own U.S. Open and Australian Open championships.
“He can maybe practice 1 1/2 hours a day, and for him, it’s enough. I’m a little bit more stubborn. I need, like, to have maybe four hours on the court,” Safina said. “And he was, like, ’No, just practice half an hour, and it’s fine for you.”’
The resemblance to her brother is striking, and a smile crossed that familiar face as Safina earned a laugh at his expense. Then her expression turned more serious, and she added: “But, no, now he doesn’t go into the tennis. I think he respects me much more now.”
The 23-year-old Safina and 29-year-old Safin — he is seeded 20th at the French Open — were born into the sport. Their father is the director of a Moscow tennis club, and their mother is a tennis coach who worked with both kids when they were young.
Safina has been known to show tiny flashes of the sort of on-court temper for which her brother is famous, though nothing quite to his extremes. Right now, her game is what’s matching his standards.
Safina comes to Roland Garros on a 10-match winning streak and 14-1 overall this season on clay, all since her April 20 rise to No. 1.
“Since I became No. 1, I’ve been in a final and I won two tournaments,” Safina said, “so I guess I’m feeling pretty good.”
As well she should. For every jab she might hear about whether she deserves to lead the rankings despite not having a major championship on her resume — most notably, Serena Williams recently called herself “the real No. 1” — Safina also earns praise for her recent play.
Just one example: When former No. 1 Amelie Mauresmo, twice a Grand Slam title winner, was asked Friday about her own chances at this French Open, she noted that women’s tennis recently has been wide open, “except maybe for Safina, who has been on a roll the last couple of weeks on clay.”
There is a general sentiment heading into the tournament that while the men’s event might very well come down to a Rafael Nadal vs. Roger Federer final for the fourth consecutive year, no one is quite sure what will happen in the women’s draw.
Serena Williams has won the U.S. Open and Australian Open to raise her career count to 10 Grand Slam titles, but she also lost her past four matches and quit her most recent outing because of a bad knee.
Venus Williams is on a two-match losing streak and has never had her greatest success on clay.
Maria Sharapova returned to singles only this week after nearly 10 months away because of right shoulder surgery.
Defending champion Ana Ivanovic’s right knee has been troubling her — she wore black tape on it while practicing Friday — and played only three matches on clay this year.
Those women all have won major titles. Safina, meanwhile, lost to Ivanovic in last year’s French Open final and to Serena Williams in this year’s Australian Open final.
As for those who say Safina is the closest thing to a favorite over the next two weeks?
“I’m not even listening what the people are saying. I’m just focusing on myself, you know? Just taking one day at a time,” she said. “I don’t think about what I want to happen in 14, 15, 16 days, you know. I live today. Today I had a practice. That’s all. Tomorrow is another day.”