Russians Dream About Conquering Mt. Williams


TUESDAY, JUNE 30- Dinara Safina and Elena Dementieva arrived at Wimbledon in much the same place, coming off tremendously disappointing losses at Roland Garros and looking like their seasons were about to skid off the rails.
But after very impressive quarterfinals victories on Tuesday — Safina a 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-1 win over the hard hitting German teen Sabine Lisicki and Dementieva a 6-2, 6-2 devastation of Italian veteran Francesca Schiavone – -both were in fine moods and hopeful that they have great shots to scale Mount Williams in the semifinals and hammer the red flag into the ground.

Is there even a remote possibility of an all-Russian final?
“Can we play just two finals instead?” Dementieva asked with a laugh.

The Russians will be underdogs in their matches, and for very good reason – the Williams sisters almost never lose on grass and when they do, it’s mostly to each other. Safina’s heavily topspinned forehand is vulnerable on grass, as is Dementieva’s weak second serve. But during this hot London fortnight, the top-ranked Safina has had few problems imposing her heavy inside the baseline attack, and Dementieva has been scooting quickly across the lawns, dictating with her leaping forehand.

How Dementieva, who was red-hot coming into her Aussie Open semifinal against Serena and played an uninspired match, and then took lazy loss to Sam Stosur at Roland Garros, has been able to pick herself up again is a question for the ages.

“Tennis just gives you a great opportunity to learn a lot about your game, about yourself,” she said. “It’s about how quick you can forget some bad experience and just focus in and going forward. I was really disappointed with my results in Paris, but I was trying to be positive and get ready for the grass… I know it surprises a lot of people that I’m still working hard and trying to improve my game. But this is what is so interesting for me about tennis, that I’m still trying to learn a lot about my game. And I feel very open to change something in my game.”

The 27-year-old Russian is contesting her 43rd Grand Slam and has yet to win one, although she’s in a very small group of players who have reached the final four of all the majors. There have been times during her 10-year career when she’s played uninspired tennis, but she registered her 519th victory on Tuesday, which is just 21 less than Venus and 90 more than Serena, which at the very least, says she’s been consistently good.

But she’s also taken 120 more losses than Venus and 155 more than Serena, winning 13 titles to 41 from Venus and 33 from Serena. So while she’s played both of them tough and scored wins over both of them, she’s in danger of going down in history as no more than as a familiar foil.

It’s Safina’s first entrance into the Wimbledon semis, but Dementieva’s second: last year, she fell to Venus in the semifinals. This year, she’ll get a crack at Serena, whom she beat on three straight occasions before Australia. The world knows that Serena will show up for Thursday’s match, and with the way that she served and returned against Vika Azarenka in her devastating 6-2, 6-3 win (27 winners and only seven unforced errors), Dementieva is going to have play the grass court match of her existence to even come close to winning. That must l include getting a high percentage of high variety first serves, locking in on her down the line game, daring Serena to hang with her in forehand crosscourt rallies, and anytime she gets a chance, jumping on Williams second serve.

“Against Serena, it’s gonna be tough if, I’m not gonna be able to put my first serve in because she’s gonna play relaxed and take advantage of the short ball,” said Dementieva, who has only lost 20 games in five matches “She’s trying to be aggressive on every point. So for me, the key for the match will be to play deep enough and trying to put my first serve in, make sure that she’s not going into the shots, from the beginning. It’s going to be a fight for every point, every game. I just want to see how tough I can be out there against her. Just looking for some good fight.”

Safina Takes Aim at Venus

With her gutsy win over Lisicki, the 23-year-old Safina accomplished what Dementieva has done and in much shorter amount of time – reaching the final four all four majors.

“I guess now the people cannot say why I’m not No. 1 without Grand Slam title,” she said. “All four Grand Slams I been in semis, so I think it’s something impressive.”

It certainly is, but what would be more impressive would be to upset a five-time Wimbledon champion in the semis. Safina scored her first win over Venus in Rome, but that was on clay, not a surface where Venus can knock her teeth out before a point even begins. Safina needs to avoid any serving wobbles against Venus, as against Lisicki, she said she was just “escaping the serve” and running against the fence.

She can certainly stay with Venus in the backcourt for a little while, but Venus is faster, so the Russian has to be able dictate early. She sounds confident, but plenty of player have entered their matches against Williams sisters at the AELTC with hopes, and saw them die quickly.

“This is her best surface,” Safina said. “She loves playing here in Wimbledon. I know her weapons. I have my weapons. I cannot go on court thinking, ‘I lost already.’ No, definitely I think I have a chance there. If I play my best and she plays the best, it’s 50/50 who gonna win the match. I don’t think if I play my best tennis and she plays the best tennis that she’s the favorite. I think I still have a chance.”