Dinara Safina: the greatest player to never win a Grand Slam?

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Arguably the greatest tennis player to never win a Grand Slam singles title, Dinara Safina’s journey to the number one spot is quite an unconventional one.

Dinara Safina
Photo courtesy of Neal Trousdale.

So close, yet so far

While she may have never held that Grand Slam singles trophy in her career, Dinara Safina sure did hold the silver plate on several occasions. While she may not be a major champion, the Russian tennis star proved time and time again to be a candidate worthy of the title, but unfortunately could not put the finishing touches on her otherwise awesome tournament performances. Reaching the semifinals of the US Open and Wimbledon and securing the runner-up prize twice for the French Open and once for the Aussie Open, it was clear that Safina was a force to be contended with, particularly during 2008 and 2009, her most successful years of Grand Slams.

The cool and inspiring thing about Dinara Safina’s career is that she managed to reach the number one spot on the WTA ranking ladder without securing that maiden Grand Slam singles title. In an era of Serena Williams’ rising success and dominance on tour, reaching the top rank even just momentarily could be seen as a huge accomplishment. Oftentimes, consistent efforts across all majors can trump championship “one-title wonders,” and Safina’s efforts were a true reflection of this notion. Naturally, some may argue flaws in the ranking system at that time, particularly supporters of Williams, but Safina’s quick rise and fall from the top was evidence enough to show the lack of a stable lead from the pack, likely due to the absence of a major title.

Dinara Safina
Dinara Safina in Cincinnati in 2009. Photo by Neal Trousdale.

Gifted genetics?

Dinara Safina’s dry spell from a Grand Slam title perhaps is not as bleak as it seems, after all, she did secure the doubles championship title at the 2007 US Open. In truth, Safina is from a family of tennis enthusiasts, starting with her mother who was her trainer and something of a coach to her, while her father was the head of the Spartak tennis club in Moscow. If that wasn’t enough, her elder brother was ATP former No.1 and two-time Grand Slam champion, Marat Safin.

As the first and only brother-sister pair in history to both reach the world No.1 spot at some point during their careers, one can only ponder the superiority of the Safin family genes as being a real thing, or perhaps a result of a tennis-focused upbringing. Regardless of the reasoning behind this incredible phenomenon, we can at least be certain that both Dinara and Marat were highly results-driven and hard-working towards their individual goals and ambitions. While Marat may have been the one to get a Grand Slam singles title, Dinara showed far superior results in doubles than her brother with one major title and runner-up to her name, resulting in a more balanced and encompassing tennis career.

Injury-induced retirement

Shortly after her career-high moments of 2008 and 2009, Safina would face a series of injuries that disrupted her success and, unfortunately, led her to a premature retirement. This decline in tournament performance began in 2010 when the Russian star had retired from the Australian Open fourth round due to a back injury. Symbolizing the beginnings of a series of tournament withdrawals, Safina was forced to back out of the Dubai and Miami Open as well as the Indian Wells in what would eventually take her further and further away from her career-high rank.

Dinara Safina
Dinara Safina, accompanied by Kristina Mladenovic and Donna Vekic, at the 2020 St. Petersburg Ladies Trophy draw ceremony. Photo by Jimmie48.

Ultimately, Dinara Safina played her last match at an incredibly early age of just 25 years old, a time that is usually considered to be the prime of one’s career. After reaching the finals of multiple Grand Slam singles events, not to mention quarter and semifinals shortly before the injury took place, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to assume Safina could and would have secured at least one major singles title before retiring. On the other hand, with so many one-hit wonders that have come and gone in the WTA, reaching the number one spot without a major to your name puts you in a unique category that has its own charm.

In a similar fashion but smaller scale to the likes of Steffi Graf, Dinara Safina also had an impressive career that was met with an early retirement, igniting an irresistible speculation among tennis fans pondering the “what-if” scenarios had such amazing players lived out their careers completely. Regardless of what was and what may have been, the legacy of the Safin siblings is one that is unlikely to be repeated in the near to far future, and the pair have been cemented in history for achieving an extraordinarily rare feat in the tennis world.

7 COMMENTS

  1. I loved Dinara’s game and her character. She was always somehow moody and serious, but in an adorable way. It’s a shame her career ended so early and she battled depression after quitting. Still, I give Jelena Jankovic the title of the best slamless world No.1.

  2. Safina was better than Serena because she showed up and actually played tournaments in those years when Serena did not. Actually, Henin was the number one player by ranking back then. She held number 1 more than anyone else.
    Dementieva was never a number one, but was a great player and worked extra hard to win Olympic Gold. She missed tournaments so she could practice in the Florida Humidity and just edged Safina who won Silver and Zvonareva who won the Bronze! She may well be the second best player who never won a slam.

  3. I disagree, i dont like her attitude nor her anger.
    Yes her attack n power are quiet impressive but her fitness and athleticism is worst than Davenport & Bartoli combined.
    She only reached number 1 because Serena didnt play tournament as much in that year, she happened to easily won them without beating the best top players.
    Like Serena said “I think Dinara did a great job to get to number, she won Rome and Madrid” *burst out laughing hahahaa…

    It’s Elena Dementieva who is the best WTA player to never won a slam, thankfully she achieved Gold Medal at the olympic, and she beat the best player (Serena) otw,,now thats accomplishment.

  4. Ric, to reinforce my statement that Jankovic is the best slamless No.1 — Jankovic is 7-7 head-to-head against Venus Williams and 4-10 against Serena. So, combined she beat the Williams sisters 11 times.

  5. Meh, I wasn’t paying attention to boring Russian players back in the early 2000’s. It was before Serena really took off, and before I became enamored with Li Na. Besides that was when Swede Annika Sorenstam, Mexican Lorena Ochoa, and S. Korean SeRi Pak were lighting up the golf world on the ladies side.

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