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Moscow Can't Miss in the Women's Final

June 05, 2004|Lisa Dillman | Times Staff Writer

PARIS — From Moscow to Paris, from playing for pizza to contesting for the grand prize at a Grand Slam tournament.

Elena Dementieva and Anastasia Myskina each is 22 years old. As kids, they once shared the same coach, and they practiced at the same sports club and possessed the same inner drive for a better life.

Today, they are linked again at the French Open, playing each other in the women's final, meaning that Russia will have its first Grand Slam women's singles title. It's the first Grand Slam final for No. 9-seeded Dementieva and No. 6 Myskina.

Dementieva reached the U.S. Open semifinals in 2000; Myskina had not been past the quarterfinals of a major -- nor beyond the second round here in four previous trips.

The joke around Roland Garros is that it's either all or nothing in women's tennis at the French Open. There was an all-Williams final in 2002, an all-Belgian final last year and now all-Russian. Although Dementieva and Myskina are friendly, no one is calling them "the Belgium sisters," the way Jennifer Capriati a few years ago referred to Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin-Hardenne.

There used to be some heated battles between the Russians. Dementieva's go-to shot is her forehand, and Myskina's backhand is considered one of the best in the game.

"We played a lot, and we fought off the court all the time after the match," Myskina said. "I remember that I was complaining that she was cheating because we play without chair umpire, and she was complaining that I was cheating.

"So it was kind of interesting game."

They both had close calls in Paris. Myskina saved a match point in the third set of her fourth-round match against Svetlana Kuznetsova, winning, 8-6. In the third round, Dementieva dropped the first set, 0-6, to Anna Smashnova-Pistolesi of Israel, won the second, 7-6 (2), and was trailing, 0-1, in the third when Smashnova-Pistolesi retired in tears with severe cramps.

Myskina and Dementieva are 4-4 against each other in WTA tour events. Dementieva won their most recent meeting, 2-6, 6-1, 6-1, last summer at the Canadian Open in Toronto. Of course, there were many junior events and club matches when they were children at the Spartak club in Moscow.

"I can't remember the first time," Dementieva said. "I remember one time we were young, we were maybe 9 or 10 years old and we were playing for pizza. So this time it's going to be [for the] Roland Garros trophy."

So, who got the pizza?

"Anastasia, of course," Dementieva said. "When we had to play for something, she was always better."

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