Thursday, September 08, 2005

US Open Day 10: The Wonderful, Horrible Serve of Elena Dementieva

I love her game. I hate her serve. Though I really do love her game. But, then again, I hate her serve... but I kind of like it, too.

Ah, what can you really say about Elena Dementieva... other than she saved a match point against Lindsay Davenport on Wednesday night and won the three-set long battle anyway? And in the wacky world that is women's grand slam tennis in 2005, it might just mean that she's about the become the U.S. Open champion.

Remember, every women's slam champion this year has survived a match point at some time during the tournament and, so far, Dementieva's the only one of the four semifinalists to have done it. The other champions-who-almost-weren't:

Australian: Serena Williams vs. Sharapova (SF)
Roland Garros: Justine Henin-Hardenne vs. Kuznetsova (4th)
Wimbledon: Venus Williams vs. Davenport (F)

If by some remarkable turn, ol' Punch-Sober's name is added to that list on Saturday night, tennis historians will be hard pressed to find another slam champion quite like Dementieva. Groundstrokes to die for. Wheels that can run all day. Nerves well-conditioned by years of failing to win the big ones, then learning (and retaining) how it's done once she finally did break through.

Oh, and then there's the serve. Yes, that serve. It should be her Achilles heel, but she somehow finds a way to overcome it. It should allow her opponents to feast on her slow-paced sitting ducks. And sometimes they do, but then at others she'll smash a 100 mph ace or spin in a lopsided ugly duckling that catches her opponent offguard and/or flat-footed and Dementieva actually benefits from the most disarmingly odd -- in both horrible and wonderful ways -- shot in the game today.

Say what you will about her modus operandi, it works for Dementieva... at least to a point. She's made two grand slam finals in the past fifteen months, and will play for a third appearance on Friday. She lost the '04 Roland Garros and U.S. Open finals to fellow Russians, and if she defeats Mary Pierce in the SF she might find Maria Sharapova waiting for her on Saturday night.

She couldn't possibly win it though... right? I mean, a grand slam champion's serve couldn't possibly look like a clip from a blooper reel every other point... right?

I love her game. I hate her serve. But I really do love her game. But I hate her serve. At least I think I do.

Oh, Elena. You're such an enigma.


PLAYER OF THE DAY: Elena Dementieva
...there were many reasons for Dementieva's old "Punch-Drunk" nickname. She's forever "Punch-Sober" now, but her service games do resemble a drunken college philosophy student partying on a Saturday night -- replete with occasional pearls of wisdom, but also face-first splats down the dormatory steps. But it doesn't matter a whit. She's a U.S. Open finalist for the third time ('00 & '04) in her career.
RISERS: Anna-Lena Groenefeld & Martina Navratilova
...they knocked off the doubles #2 seeds Kuznetsova/Molik in the QF. Later in the day, Lisa Raymond & Samantha Stosur knocked out the #1-seeded team of Black/Stubbs. Martina & Girl Friday might just be the favorites now, sentimental or otherwise (though Virginia Ruano-Pascual & Conchita Martinez could have something to say about that).
SURPRISES: Lisa Raymond & Samantha Stosur
...the pair will now face Martinez/Ruano-Pascual for a chance to go to the final, where Stosur would be playing for her second slam title of the year (she won the Oz Mixed with Scott Draper).
vETERAN: Mary Pierce
...hail Mary, full of grace. 20-2 since the start of her run to the Roland Garros final, the 30-year old is looking for all the world like she's going to get another '05 shot at her first slam crown since 2000. She's 10-for-10 in sets at this year's Open (already her career's best) after handily brushing aside Amelie Mauresmo in 1:05, ending her four-match losing streak to her countrywoman. Here's some bad news for Dementieva: Pierce is 5-0 in career slam SF. In other words, when she's on, she's really on. And she is most definitely "on" this year in Flushing.
FRESH FACE: Victoria Azarenka
...the Girls' #1 seed wiped out Czech Katerina Kramperova 6-1/6-2 in junior action on Wednesday. The 16-year old from Belarus won the Australian Open junior title in January.
DOWN: Lindsay Davenport
...she falls short in a slam yet again. It should be noted that Davenport has lost to the eventual champion in five of the last seven slams going back to Oz '04.


1.QF - #7 Andre Agassi def. James Blake
...3-6/3-6/6-3/6-3/7-6(6). Yeah, I know this is WTA Backspin. But the match of the tournament deserves to be highlighted. You never know when you're going to get an "instant classic," but you know one when you see it... even if you have to wait until 1:15am for it to end.
2.QF - #6 Elena Dementieva def. #2 Lindsay Davenport
...6-1/3-6/7-6(6). An even stranger stat than Dementieva's 19 doubles faults against Chakvetadze was that she had zero in the 1st set here. Of course, she made up for it with a DF on break point while serving at 6-5 in the 3rd. But yet another 3rd set tie-break win -- after similar victories in the '04 U.S. QF & SF -- makes all of Dementieva's little "quirks" endearing, not devastating. For now, at least.
3.QF - #12 Mary Pierce def. #3 Amelie Mauresmo
...6-4/6-1. After breaking Pierce's serve for 4-5 in the 1st set, Mauresmo proceeded to serve up two double faults in the next game to be broken right back. That was about all she wrote in this one.
4.Doubles QF - #7 Groenefeld/Navratilova def. #2 Kuznetsova/Molik
...6-7/7-5/7-5. Martina turns 49 next month. Kuznetsova & Molik are a combined age of 44.
5.Mixed SF - Hantuchova/Bhupathi def. #6 Morariu/M.Bryan
...7-6/7-5. Wonder Girl won the Roland Garros Mixed title with Fabrice Santoro.

==DAY 10 ODDS & ENDS==

2003 LA 3r - Clijsters 6-4/1-6/6-1
2003 Lux.SF - Clijsters 6-0/6-3
2005 Miami F - Clijsters 6-3/7-5
2005 US Open SF - ??

**RECORD IN 2005 SF**
6-1...Kim Clijsters
4-4...Maria Sharapova
2-0...Mary Pierce
1-3...Elena Dementieva

5-0...Mary Pierce (2005: 1-0)
4-3...Kim Clijsters
2-1...Elena Dementieva
1-2...Maria Sharapova (2005: 0-2)

[by nation]

2-0...Maria Sharapova
2-0...Kim Clijsters
2-1...Lindsay Davenport
1-0...Mary Pierce
1-0...Elena Dementieva
1-0...Amelie Mauresmo
1-0...Serena Williams
1-1...Venus Williams
0-1...Justine Henin-Hardenne
0-1...Nadia Petrova
0-1...Daniela Hantuchova
0-1...Anabel Medina-Garrigues
0-1...Na Li
0-1...Maria Vento-Kabchi
0-1...Sesil Karatantcheva
0-1...Eleni Daniilidou
0-1...Catalina Castano

...well, Davenport's exit takes out Pierre Cantin's women's pick. So, the only remaining "champion pick" for either of us is my prediction of Roger Federer to win it all. I'm still feeling pretty good about that one, to say the least.

The elimination of #2-seed Davenport and #3-seed Mauresmo also wipes out two of the top four seeds. The SF match-up of #1 Sharapova and #4 Clijsters will take out another, so the continuation of the streak of anyone-but-the-top-four-seeds at grand slams is still a possibility, with either #12 Pierce or #6 Dementieva shouldering the burden in the final.

Hmmm, so Dementieva has survived a match point and is seeded below #4. If she defeats Pierce, she'll have all the odds in her favor then, right? Stranger things have happened. But not too many.

All for now.


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