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Russia's Myskina dominates French final
Updated: 2004-06-06 10:04

Anastasia Myskina beat Elena Dementieva, her countrywoman and friend, 6-1, 6-2 Saturday in the French Open final 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 where 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. And that defending champion Justine Henin-Hardenne lost in the second round after missing six weeks with a viral infection. And that 2001 and 2003 French Open runner-up 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 will jump to a career-high No. 3 in the rankings, shed tears of tension in the locker room Saturday, then went out on court and won nine of the 14 rallies that lasted 10 strokes or more.

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

During a match at the Australian Open, she threw her racket and gestured toward her coach, Jens Gerlach, complaining that he wasn't supporting her vocally enough. Myskina tossed rackets in Paris, too, including while trailing in the fourth round against Svetlana Kuznetsova. (Myskina's the first woman since Margaret Smith-Court in 1962 to win the French Open after saving a match point.)

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 later. "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 6 or 7 and taking lessons from the mother of 2000 U.S. Open champion Marat Safin at a Moscow club. Now 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 Elena 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 were making major final debuts.

That also will be the case in Sunday's all-Argentine men's final between No. 3 Guillermo Coria and unseeded Gaston Gaudio. One will be the French Open's 11th first-time Slam champion in 16 years — and the first Argentine man to win a major since Guillermo Vilas at the 1979 Australian Open.

Vilas mentored both (Coria was named after him). The last Russian woman in a major final, Olga Morozova, coaches Dementieva.

"It was very difficult to play the final, hold her nerve out there. It's a matter of holding everything together on the right day," said Morozova, who lost to Chris Evert in the 1974 French Open and Wimbledon finals.

Warming up, Dementieva missed six of her last nine practice serves, and her form didn't improve when it counted.

She double-faulted three times in her first service game, drawing groans from spectators. Looking as uncomfortable as Shaquille O'Neal at the free-throw line, Dementieva shanked serves into the net or was 3 feet long, raising her tournament total to 67 double-faults.

"I was waiting for this moment all my life," Dementieva said. "I just couldn't handle this pressure."

She actually broke a tentative Myskina to lead 1-0, then went 40 minutes before winning another game. After one double-fault, Dementieva wheeled and yelled, "Nyet!" A streak of Russian words followed; her translation later: "I hate my serve."

Asked how good she could be if she improved that part of her game, Dementieva's face reddened. She began to cry and said, "I don't know how to serve."

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