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Friday, June 26, 2009

Dementieva cruises into second week

Photo Titled Elena Dementieva
Elena Dementieva

Elena Dementieva required only three games over the minimum as she defeated Russian qualifier Regina Kulikova 6-1, 6-2 in less than an hour. The fourth seed combined her trademark flowing forehands with equally impressive backhands, while her famously fragile service now has the strength and variety – if not yet the consistency – for it to be a weapon on grass.

Despite sharing a common nationality, the two Russians are worlds apart in all other respects. Dementieva is a relative veteran on the women’s circuit at 27 and along with Jelena Jankovic and Dinara Safina, will be seen as an under-achiever until she finally wins a Grand Slam. The closest she has come is near misses at the French and US Opens back in 2004. Indeed, she only has two Tier 1 titles in her trophy cabinet but took gold at the Olympics last year and has since worked her way back into the top five.

While Dementieva has 100 career Slam victories to her name, Kulikova has just two, those wins coming on Monday and Wednesday as she became the only qualifier to reach the third round of this year’s women’s draw.

Injuries have blighted the 20-year-old’s fledgling career, and despite support from the Swiss tennis federation due to her residency in Biel near the country’s capital, she stands at a lowly 191st in the world.

Dementieva’s potted biography talks of her Grand Slam achievements: she has reached at least the semis at all four majors. Kulikova’s lists her favourite surface (hard), shot (forehand) and movie (Top Gun) – the dictionary definition of an unheralded player.

The Kazakhstan native won the toss and elected to receive, hoping to capitalise on her opponent’s notoriously shaky service, and when the first ball nestled in the net, it appeared to be a canny move.

This was as good as it was to get for Kulikova, however, as Dementieva ramped up her serve throughout the first game and indeed the set, alternating speed (up to 110 mph) with accuracy and excellent tactics. Her two aces came by fooling her novice opponent, one with a 90mph slice on first serve and the other with a 105mph offering straight down the middle on the second.

Her running, full-stretch forehands were as impressive as ever – strong, fast, whippy and worthy of comparisons with Rafael Nadal’s – while her backhands were equally noteworthy, either of the one-handed defensive variety or the two-hander, which regularly left her opponent gasping for air as it flew right past her in a first set that was over and done before many people had settled into their seats after an early lunch.

Dementieva saved the first break point against her at 1-0 in the second set, but Kulikova carved out another and took it, much to the delight of the crowd who were happy to support the underdog and were also hoping to get a longer set than the opener. This temporary blip was repeated after the 27-year-old had raced into a 4-1 lead, but again she followed up by breaking back to love, and then served out to pocket the match in less than an hour.

For her to challenge the Williams sisters’ domination on grass, Dementieva will have to serve at 100% throughout and also add a little more variety of depth to her play, but on today’s showing, she is certainly at the forefront of the “best of the rest” category.

Court 1 - Ladies' Singles - 3rd Round
Regina Kulikova RUS 12
Elena Dementieva RUS (4)Winner66

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