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Error-prone Safina falls to Kuznetsova

The 74-minute women's final ended on a double fault by the No. 1-ranked player.

PARIS - Svetlana Kuznetsova never struck Dinara Safina as a Grand Slam champion in the making when they were youngsters in Russia. Kuznetsova showed up for matches toting a 2-liter bottle of soda and wearing rock band T-shirts.

As of yesterday, Kuznetsova owns two major titles - and that's two more than Safina.

Far steadier, if not all that spectacular, Kuznetsova took advantage of the No. 1-ranked Safina's assorted errors and won the French Open final, 6-4, 6-2.

On the men's side, Swiss star Roger Federer will try to win his first French Open championship today when he faces Robin Soderling.

The 74-minute women's final yesterday was hardly a work of beauty and ended with Safina's seventh double-fault.

"She was too tight. She had so much pressure on her," said Kuznetsova, who also won the 2004 U.S. Open. "I just played the match. It was just one more match. . . . Definitely, it was a lot of emotions inside of me, but I controlled it."

Not at the outset: Kuznetsova, who will turn 24 on June 27, lost the first three points and was broken in the first game. Quickly, though, the seventh-seeded Kuznetsova took control, yanking Safina from side to side with the same powerful ground strokes that had eliminated Serena Williams in the quarterfinals.

More dispiriting to Safina, perhaps, was Kuznetsova's defense.

Time and time again, Safina - sister of two-time major champion Marat Safin - delivered a hard, well-placed shot. And time and time again, Kuznetsova scrambled to get the ball over the net. If the champion seems to have a cyclist's strong legs, it's because she does: Kuznetsova's father coached her mother to six world championships and her brother to an Olympic silver medal in that sport.

On a cloudy afternoon with the temperature in the low 50s, Kuznetsova also delighted spectators by showing off her soccer skills, juggling a tennis ball off her right foot and knee for several seconds.

Her best work came with her racket, and she broke back at love to make it 1-all, then again to go ahead by 5-3. Safina began that eighth game with a double-fault and rolled her eyes. As mistakes accumulated, the No. 1 seed muttered to herself or smacked her left palm with her racket.

When Kuznetsova would allow herself to imagine winning the French Open, she always pictured herself dropping to the clay in joy. But the anticlimactic way this one ended didn't call for such a celebration. Instead, Kuznetsova simply turned to make eye contact with her coach and supporters in the stands, then walked to the net for a handshake and kisses on the cheek.

At the other end of the court, Safina covered her forehead with her left hand - disbelief written all over her face - then spiked her racket.

"I was a little bit desperate on the court," said the 23-year-old Safina, who appeared to be fighting tears late in the match and during the trophy presentation. "Didn't stay tough mentally."

Federer's quest. The No. 2 seed will take on the Swedish long shot who helped clear the path for Federer toward the one Grand Slam championship he hasn't won by upsetting top-seeded Rafael Nadal earlier in the tournament.

Nadal had beaten Federer in the last three finals.

Federer reached his fourth consecutive championship match at Roland Garros two days ago by beating Juan Martin Del Potro of Argentina, 3-6, 7-6 (7-2), 2-6, 6-1, 6-4. Soderling also needed the maximum five sets to advance to his first Grand Slam final, downing Fernando Gonzalez, 6-3, 7-5, 5-7, 4-6, 6-4.

"I cannot underestimate Robin," Federer, ranked second in the world, told reporters after his last match. "He's playing the tennis of his life."

A victory over the tournament's 23d-seeded player would give Federer 14 major singles titles, equaling Pete Sampras' record, and make the 27-year-old Swiss righthander just the sixth man to win all four Grand Slam events.

Soderling became the surprise of the two-week clay court tournament when he handed Nadal his first defeat at Roland Garros in the fourth round.

The 24-year-old said he has a chance against Federer, who holds a career record of 9-0 against him.

"I lost a lot of times, but it's been close matches," he said.