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The future is now for Safina and del Potro

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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Perhaps we can stop using words like "promising" when it comes to players like Dinara Safina and Juan Martin del Potro, or in this case, specifically Dinara Safina and Juan Martin del Potro.

Both players are enjoying what you would call breakthrough seasons, although Safina's is more of the late variety, considering she's already 22 years old, while del Potro's is probably one that's ahead of course, considering he's still only 19 years of age (he'll turn 20 in September).

The nearly 6-foot, 155-pound Safina, like her up-and-down big brother, men's star Marat Safin, is a punisher of the ball, and has powered her way to a solid 40-13 record so far this year (after two rounds at the ongoing Olympic Games in Beijing), including three of her eight career titles and a current 12-match winning streak. She's rattled off 29 wins in her last 32 matches.

That's pretty hot.

Safina's first title of the year came in Berlin back in May, as she upended Elena Dementieva in an all-Russian clay-court finale. In her next event, Safina soared all the way into the final on the dirt at Roland Garros, only to lose to world No. 1 (at the time) Ana Ivanovic in her first-ever Grand Slam final. On her way to the title match, Safina saved match points in back-to-back matches on her way to upsetting reigning Aussie Open champ and fellow Russian Maria Sharapova in the fourth round and Dementieva in the quarters.

Dinara Safina is a three-time titlist this year and was the runner-up at the French Open.
Following the French Open, Safina landed in another final, but was shocked by Thai veteran Tamarine Tanasugarn in the title bout on a grass court in The Netherlands. En route to the final, Safina toppled her compatriot Dementieva, once again, in the semis.

Safina was a disappointing third-round loser (against capable Israeli Shahar Peer) at Wimbledon, but she promptly rebounded in her next tournament by capturing a hardcourt title in Los Angeles, and followed that up by corralling more hardware the following week on a hardcourt in Montreal. All this winning activity in North America produced a U.S. Open Series victory for Safina, which means she will double her prize money in New York. If Safina can win the title in Flushing, she would receive a record $2.5 million payout.

And when it comes to that precious Russian supremacy, Safina is a perfect 6-0, combined, against her fellow Top-10 countrywomen Kuznetsova (No. 3), Sharapova (No. 5) and Dementieva (No. 7) this year.

Safina opened 2008 ranked 15th in the world in singles and has shot up to No. 6, and she's ranked ninth on the planet in doubles, where she's also tallied eight career titles, including a pair this season.

Aside from an Olympic gold medal this week, the skyrocketing Safina has her sights set on the upcoming U.S. Open, where she'll be among the favorites. The powerful Muscovite reached the quarterfinals in New York two years ago, and made it to the fourth round there last year.

When you get right down to it, Safina appears to be headed toward an eventual Grand Slam title, which is something her former world No. 1 and two-time major titlist brother would know about. Safin is a former U.S. (2000) and Aussie Open champ (2005).

Did You Know?: Safina was the doubles titlist (alongside Frenchwoman Nathalie Dechy) at last year's U.S. Open.

Back to del Potro.

The lanky 6-foot-6, 172-pound Argentine has had Top 10 written all over him for a couple of years, as the youngster simply needed some time to mature, which can happen sooner rather than later when your start winning at the ATP level.

Teenager Juan Martin del Potro has titled in his last three tournaments.
The fiery del Potro is certifiably hot, having won his first three career titles, all in his last three outings.

Last week, "Delpo" was the surprise champion in Los Angeles, where American star Andy Roddick was both the top seed and heavy favorite. It was Roddick who del Potro topped in the finale, in straight sets. The victory over Roddick sent the Tandil native's torrid winning streak to 14 matches.

Del Potro's first career title came last month in Stuttgart, where he stunned quality Frenchman Richard Gasquet in a clay-court final. The following week, the super-skinny teen ran the table on red clay in Kitzbuehel, highlighted by a big win over preferred Austrian Jurgen Melzer in the championship match.

And last week, JMDP took out three straight Americans -- Amer Delic in the quarters, Mardy Fish in the semis and Roddick in the final -- to secure the hardware on the hardcourts in the "City of Angels."

Prior to his current hot streak, del Potro had been a pedestrian 9-8 for the year, but 14 straight wins later, he's a solid 23-8 with an impressive three titles.

What a difference three weeks make.

Del Potro opened 2008 at No. 44 in the world, but has shot all the way up to 19th, marking his first-ever trek into the Top 20.

Obviously, the blossoming South American star will have to get his act together at the Slams, where he's a combined 3-3 for the year, with a trio of second-round setbacks at the Aussie and French Opens and Wimbledon. In all fairness to John Martin of the Colt, his losses at Melbourne and Wimbledon came against Top-10 performers David Ferrer and Stanislas Wawrinka, respectively.

Del Potro is the second seed at this week's event in Washington, D.C., while Roddick is the top seed there, which means they could meet in a second straight hardcourt final in two weeks.

Ace or double fault? Send your comments to Scott Riley at sriley@sportsnetwork.com.
Scott Riley


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