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SPORTS WEEKEND | U.S. OPEN

Dementieva Adds a New Dimension

September 08, 2000|JERRY CROWE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — If this were college basketball's Final Four, Elena Dementieva would be Princeton.

Dementieva, 18, is the underexposed, unseeded interloper among the women who have reached the U.S. Open semifinals.

Unprecedented too.

The first Russian woman to make it this far in the U.S. Open, she'll play second-seeded Lindsay Davenport today.

Top-seeded Martina Hingis plays third-seeded Venus Williams, who has won 24 consecutive matches, in the other semifinal.

Dementieva, 0-4 against Davenport, is the only one who hasn't won a Grand Slam tournament. Two years ago, when Davenport won the U.S. Open, Dementieva watched on television in Russia. She had turned professional only two weeks earlier.

She made it this far by fighting through a bracket that opened up for her when fourth-seeded Mary Pierce of France retired from a fourth-round match against 10th-seeded Anke Huber of Germany because of a shoulder injury.

The 25th-ranked Dementieva, who had upset seventh-seeded Conchita Martinez of Spain in the third round, upset Huber in the quarterfinals, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3, rallying from a 2-0 deficit in the third set.

"I think she has already the experience she needs to play the big matches," Huber said. "She plays smart and simple, maybe not like the other 18-year-olds who are just hitting the balls."

Said Dementieva, whose most recent loss to Davenport was in the semifinals last month at Manhattan Beach: "You know, I'm not nervous. I play very well this week. I work very hard. Why not?"

The marquee semifinal, of course, matches Hingis and Williams, who last met in a Wimbledon quarterfinal won by Williams en route to her first Grand Slam championship.

Hingis, 9-6 against Williams, has lost three of four against Williams since winning a semifinal here last year, 6-1, 4-6, 6-3, to spoil hopes of an all-Williams final between Venus and younger sister Serena.

While Williams has seemed vulnerable through the first five rounds--she was pushed to a tiebreaker against unheralded Meghann Shaugnessy and dropped a set against eighth-seeded Nathalie Tauziat of France in the quarterfinals--Hingis has sailed through without dropping a set.

"I think I played much better since Wimbledon," Hingis said. "So has she, I think, based on the confidence and the winning streak. It's just, go into the match with basically nothing to lose for me. She's got to prove herself now."

Said Williams, asked if she'll have to play a lot better to beat Hingis: "I guess I'll have to play a little better. I always play better when it comes to the big match."

*

Serena Williams is still considered "probable" for the Olympics, according to a WTA Tour injury report, despite pulling out of the women's doubles competition at the Open on Thursday because of a foot injury.

Serena, who had reached the doubles semifinals with Venus, was scheduled to fly home late Friday to Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., to have her left foot examined by a foot specialist, according to her father, Richard.

"If I were her, I wouldn't play," said Richard, who coaches his daughters. "I'd put my health first."

Serena suffered the injury last month during the final of a tournament at Montreal, causing her to retire from a match won by Hingis, 0-6, 6-3, 3-0. She lost Wednesday night to Davenport, 6-4, 6-2, in the quarterfinals of the Open.

"She shouldn't have played, to be honest," her father said. "But she's headstrong. Serena just had to prove she's right."

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