Elena Dementieva Faces Anastasia Myskina At French Open
Lawn Tennis

Childhood Friends Won’t Play For Pizza In Final
Elena Dementieva versus Anastasia Myskina
June 4, 2004

The first time that Russia’s Elena Dementieva remembers playing her childhood friend, Anastasia Myskina, at Moscow’s Spartak Club, the Roland Garros trophy wasn’t on the table. "When we were nine or 10 we were playing for pizza. Anastasia of course [won the pizza]. When we played for something, she was always better." On Saturday, one of the two determined inside-the-baseliners will become the first Russian woman to raise a Grand Slam crown. Myskina said that they won’t view the match as a pizza party, although she’s willing to put a pie on the line. "Maybe we can play for another one. We played a lot and fought off the court all the time after the match. I was complaining she was cheating because we played without a chair umpire and she was complaining I was cheating. It was interesting. But tomorrow it’s not going to be like that. We've had a lot of matches in the past, but the main one is going to be tomorrow."

The two 22-year-olds have played each other eight times on tour and their head-to-head is locked at 4-4 (they say they played each other more than 30 times including the juniors). Dementieva won the last time they played, a three-set victory at the 2003 Canadian Open on hardcourts. But they have had dissimilar roads to success, with the blonde Dementieva having broken out as big-time talent back in 2000, when she leapt her way to the US Open semi finals and an Olympic Silver medal. However, even though she is a tremendous mover and can trade backcourt blasts with anyone, self-doubt and a weak second serve have kept Dementieva from seriously challenging the elite. But last year, she began to mature and snared three titles. During the off-season, she hired 1974 Roland Garros finalist Olga Morozova and by March, when she reached the Miami final, she began to think that she could take it to anyone. "I think it was an unbelievable year for me, 2000," she said. "I've got so many good results. But the same time, I couldn't handle all this pressure on me, people just expected some better results from me, and I couldn't play with all this pressure. I got some injuries to deal with, and it was a tough time for me. It took me almost four years to come back to my game." Dementieva, who had been primarily coached by her mother, Vera, said that Morozova has made a world of difference. "She has great experience and been very positive," she said. "She’s taught me a lot."

Unlike Dementieva, the slight brunette Myskina didn’t roar onto the big stage as an 18-year-old. It wasn’t until last year that she was physically strong enough to dictate on court, but once she had improved her forehand and serve to a respectable level, she flew, winning four titles, including Leipzig and Moscow, where she took down top-ranked Justine Henin-Hardenne and Amelie Mauresmo in the finals. "It was coming," she said. "I was playing well. With every tournament, you confidence comes, and finally I believed I could do better than a quarter or semi final." At the year’s outset, Myskina had a golden opportunity to break though to her first Grand Slam semi final when she faced a hobbled Kim Clijsters in the quarter finals of the Australian Open. But Clijsters is one of her best friends and she couldn’t find the inner fire to send the Belgian reeling out of the tournament. On Saturday, she will attempt to forget that it is her buddy Dementieva who is on the other side of the match. "With Kim, we are really close. Right now, it’s a final of friendship, and so I will try not to think about it," Myskina said. Former two-time Roland Garros Martina Hingis calls Myskina a late bloomer who always had the potential to go far if she got completely healthy and got her personal life in order. The emotionally turbulent Myskina used to date her coach, Jens Erlich, but no more. "With her it’s more the off-court things with her coach and once that was settled, he was able to keep her calm. On court if she keeps her head together, she can play," Hingis said.

The two match up closely in all facets of the game. Both have tricky first serves, soft second serves and huge returns. They move equally as well, with Myskina owning the better backhand and Dementieva the better forehand. If they keep their nerves in check, it should be a tremendous battle. "She’s a strong girl and a good fighter," Myskina said. "She's a better fighter than anyone in the tournament. I know that, so I have to keep fighting as well.” Either way, it will be a big victory for Russia. “Finally. It’s been time enough," said Morozova. "You were telling us we were coming and we came."

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