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Myskina beats buddy in sloppy final

By wire services
Published June 6, 2004

PARIS - Anastasia Myskina knows how it feels to fight herself more than her opponent. She knows how it is to get so frustrated the urge rises to toss a racket or scream or even just give up.

And now, in part because Elena Dementieva struggled with such thoughts in the French Open final, Myskina knows how it feels to be a Grand Slam champion.

Myskina beat her friend 6-1, 6-2 Saturday at Roland Garros with solid play, steady resolve and plenty of help from Dementieva's 33 unforced errors, including 10 double faults.

"I was really emotional. I was really nervous, as well," Myskina said. "And I think, um, Elena was nervous more."

In keeping with the surprising nature of the past two weeks, the sixth-seeded Myskina became the first Russian woman to win a major title. And she did so at a tournament in which she had never been past the second round, going 1-4.

It helped that the Williams sisters have been hampered by injuries and lack of matches, that defending champion Justine Henin-Hardenne lost in the second round after missing six weeks with a viral infection and that 2001 and '03 runnerup Kim Clijsters withdrew because of a bad wrist.

Still, Myskina earned her silver trophy and $1.02-million check. She changed pace and whipped the occasional winner against Dementieva the way she did in victories over Venus Williams and Jennifer Capriati.

Myskina, who jumps to a career-high No. 3 in the rankings, shed tears of tension in the locker room after the final.

She attributed her breakthrough to maturation, a newfound ability to keep her composure.

During a match at the Australian Open, she threw her racket and gestured to her coach, Jens Gerlach, complaining he wasn't supporting her vocally enough. Myskina tossed rackets in Paris, too, including while trailing in the fourth round against Svetlana Kuznetsova.

During the postmatch ceremony Myskina turned to the guest box and addressed Gerlach, saying, "I'm a hard person. Sorry for everything. "I know that it doesn't help if you yell at somebody. Finally I became more professional on the court," she said. "I started believing in myself more than in the past."

The 10 previous Slams featured six all-Williams finals and three all-Belgian finals with plenty of ragged play, but nothing of Saturday's level.

The first all-Russian championship match at a major was the most lopsided final at the French Open in 16 years, at any Slam in 10 years.

Maybe it was because Myskina and Dementieva met when they were ages 6 or 7 and taking lessons from the mother of 2000 U.S. Open champion Marat Safin at a Moscow club. At age 22 they're pals, and they know each other's weaknesses on court.

Myskina's first pro title came in 1997 at a minor-league event in Batumi, Georgia, when she was ranked 762nd. Her opponent in the final? Another Russian teen: 514th-ranked Dementieva. All these years later they combined for 15 double faults, 11 break points, 50 unforced errors and 23 winners.

"It was an awkward matchup and an awkward match," Gerlach said. "But it's not about winning the beauty prize. It's about bringing home the championship."

Perhaps the play reflected a lack of experience: It was the first time since the 1981 French Open that both participants made major-final debuts.

[Last modified June 5, 2004, 23:52:18]

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