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The Yips 01/29/2009 - 3:25 AM

I feel for Elena Dementieva. She's one of the fittest women on the tour, trains quite hard, and hits forehands and backhands as well as anyone in the women's game. She's also, by all accounts and impressions, a sweet person (no diva, this Dementieva). Sadly, the svelte Russian is afflicted with a disease known to club players as the yips.Serenasemi

For a while, the yips can go into remission, and its unfortunate carrier might well win a few tournaments, or even an Olympic gold medal. Sometimes a player can go so long without an episode that observers--even seasoned ones--might begin to believe that, miracle of miracles, the player has been cured.

And then suddenly, said player--in this case, our dear, dear Dementieva--steps up for her seventh major semifinal and a chance at her first major final in more than four years and--bang!--the yips are back. And nothing--nothing--can be done about it. After a hard-fought first set against Serena Williams, Dementieva double faulted eight times in the second set, including three times when she served with a 3-1 lead (she was broken), once at 3-3 (also broken), and two more times at 4-4 (broken again). A few of these doubles were doozies (the ball landed three to 10 feet outside the service box). Sitting in the cool air-conditioning inside Rod Laver Arena, I found myself--after every fault--tempted to look away as Dementieva readied herself for a second serve. When someone has such a severe case of the yips, it feels impolite to look at them.

Take away Dementieva's serving woes and this, for the most part, was a high-level semifinal. The baseline rallies were long, powerful and loud, with both players screaming at higher decibels with each stroke. Dementieva was much steadier from the baseline overall, even though she let loose a few of her trademark squeals after unusually awful errors. Williams, of course, served beautifully, as she always seems to do in the latter rounds of the majors. I was struck by something else in her game, though, something that ought to give Dinara Safina a lot of grief in the final: newfound zip on her running forehand. Only when Williams is at her very best does she hit the ball well on the run. Against Dementieva, she hit numerous crosscourt forehands from wide positions, including one that set up an easy backhand for a break of serve at 4-4 in the second set. Williams then spun back toward her box, screamed "C'mon!" and took a seat in her chair before serving out the match, which ended with a thunderous overhead, 6-3, 6-4.

In the second semifinal, Safina--much to everyone's surprise--rather routinely dismissed Vera Zvonareva in straight sets, 6-3, 7-6(4). This match had only a whiff of the comic drama we've come to expect from an afternoon with Safina (she surrendered a 5-4 lead in the second set and fell behind by a break of serve before recovering). Safina impressed with her continued aggression (no pushing today) and her range at the baseline. She may not be the fastest woman on tour, but height is an underrated defensive weapon. It's tough to put a ball out of this woman's reach.

If Safina can control her nerves--an yes, that "if" is large enough that one could see it resting on Safina's shoulders from outer space--we have the makings of a strong final, especially if Williams loses control of her backhand for long stretches, as she did in the second set today. Williams and Safina are two of the most striking athletes in the field, Williams with her powerful legs and large biceps, Safina with her long limbs and broad shoulders. As we've seen so often at this tournament and in history, though, the muscle between a player's ears matters the most. Williams has the best competitive mind in the business, so strong that I doubt Safina--even a Safina who plays free and easy--can overcome it.


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Posted by Eoin 01/29/2009 at 04:40 AM

Serena is the favourite Tom, no question. But anything is possible if Safina can keep it together and serve well. She can't do worse than the FO Final of last year against Ivanovic!!!

Posted by Louis 01/29/2009 at 05:43 AM

I love them both but i hope truly that serena would establish a new reign in the women tennis

Posted by Ikie 01/29/2009 at 05:52 AM

Where are all the serena haters? Everyone was saying how elena is going to beat serena but what they forgot to remember she chokes when in matters most. So well done to serena. She really dominated elena in the end

Posted by Mayes 01/29/2009 at 06:15 AM

I guess the serena haters were watching the federer-roddick match.

Posted by Moraa 01/29/2009 at 07:03 AM

Give it to the Girl, she palyed well when it mattered. Champions dont give up........even whe you are 5-0 down. Love both Serena and Safina, but let the best palyer win. if you on court and start wimpering, then you deserve a thrashing.......

Posted by rami 01/29/2009 at 07:05 AM

Just because someone picked Elena to win the match does not make them automatically 'serena-hater'. Elena did beat her in the last match they played and she was on a long winning streak, its not unfathomable some thought she could win this without 'hating' on Serena!

Posted by tennis fan 01/29/2009 at 07:07 AM

this is serena's 3rd consecutive grand slam final.. not consistently dominant on tour, but really consistent in grand slams, cant wait to see her win on saturday!

Posted by rami 01/29/2009 at 07:12 AM

Serena has to be the big favorite to win this now, she is a true champion. That said Safina is hungry for her first slam title, hope she doesn't wilt like she did in the FO finals and give us a great 3-set match and not a one-sided encounter

Posted by Markic 01/29/2009 at 07:48 AM

Safina was exhausted by the time she got to the final in Paris, otherwise she would have won. But the indoor court in Melbourne is quick, and helps serena's serve, already her biggest weapon. I don't think it's even going to be close, except that perhaps the indoor conditions will allow safina to set up a bit earlier...

Posted by elisse 01/29/2009 at 08:21 AM


Yeah, Dementieva got the yips but it's mainly because she lost that first set. She became shaky, and had to respect Serena's return a lot more. Sucks for her. Serena is mentally tougher than anyone though.

Posted by georgette 01/29/2009 at 08:41 AM

I would go so far tosay that if Serena could stay fit and focused like she did in 2002 we will probably see another Serena Slam. Serena herself had expected to win 08's French so that failure will make her determined to nab 09's. She's capable of stealing this year's Wimby as well and certainly in defending her USO crown. Wont be surprised if she ends the season Slam-dominanat.

Posted by Oto 01/29/2009 at 10:10 AM

I have been a lurker in this site for a couple of years now, adding very few comments to what is usually a fantastic site.
I only want to add that Serena is by far the best competitor in the field. There are only 3 other women that can compete with Serena in sheer determination and will to win (particularly in a Major final): Venus, Sharapova and Henin (and Justine is -unfortunately for us- retired).
I wonder who in the past had the same determination (Graf, Seles, Navratilova maybe)?

Posted by Master Ace 01/29/2009 at 10:53 AM

Difference in match for me was the following:
(a) Serena was able to get cheap points on her serve
(b) Serena moved her feet
(c) Serena dictated play(this probably lead to Elena's serving woes)

Serena should win her 10th career Slam(4th AO title) as I thought she played her best match of the tournament

Posted by slicklando 01/29/2009 at 01:12 PM

gosh where have all those neagtive comments of serena williams gone being choked on by those that wished her bad for her match against elena.a case of real sour grapes.they say talk is cheap and theres so many haters out there.what cant be taken away is the record of being the holder of 9 grand slams being in countless final and being graceful in even deafeat that is priceless. she will be remembered as 1 of tennises all time great. a champion amongst champions. stand and salute suckers.

Posted by Ace 01/29/2009 at 01:28 PM

Was a good match indeed, too bad Elena had the yips...was just wondering though how Serena would matchup against Kleybanova, the big Russian that took out Anna. that girl has game.. If she work on her fitness and game she can be a fierce competitor against Serena...

Posted by 01/29/2009 at 02:15 PM

If Serena take her time and make each serve count and watch how Safina serve her second ball up the T she will have a good chance of taking her in two sets and play more aggressive tennis instead of play Safina game of baseline tennis and Serene is aggessive player. Serena stay aggressive.

Posted by fan 01/29/2009 at 02:17 PM

If Serena take her time and make each serve count and watch how Safina serve her second ball up the T she will have a good chance of taking her in two sets and play more aggressive tennis instead of play Safina game of baseline tennis and Serene is aggessive player. Serena stay aggressive.

Posted by Jake Ian 01/29/2009 at 02:21 PM

No doubt about it, Tom--the yips were poor Elena's downfall, and the yips will define what she "didn't" do in her otherwise fine career, rather than what she did manage.

Really, it was painful to watch. Elena is noticeably fitter than Serena and able to match her shot for shot, and was faster. The actual quality of the hitting was superb. All credit to Serena, who truly reined-in her shots for this contest, but Elena's yips on serve were so clearly a factor at crucial times. It's a terrible mental affect on her full potential.

Sadly, at 27, she's had the yips for her full career and one doubts she'll ever lose them. She can still win a Grand the fluke-sense, if someone else plays badly, she has a lucky draw, or the field is weak. Yeah, she could still win a slam. But, after last night's evidence, I no longer believe Elena can legitimately TAKE a Slam.

Too bad. Lovely game (save for that awful hang-up on serve) and lovely woman.

Posted by B.R. 01/29/2009 at 02:28 PM

I Think Elena is a good player,however I don't think anyone that has that kind of serve should be a champion.I know that she is sweet and plays a lot of tennis but still the champion should have all the skills that count.Some of the players that have won lately,I Just don't know how they managed to do so given their skill set.

Posted by ani 01/29/2009 at 02:36 PM

I'm not a Serena fan, but she played better than Elena on the big points. My problem with Serena was that she doesn't give her opponent that much credit when she is beaten by them. When she lost to Elena earlier this month, Serena tld the press that "she (Serena) made her (Elena) look like a champion." Now correct me if I'm wrong, but there are two players on court, and the other person had to take advantage of another players poor decisions and/or mistakes and play really well in order to beat them intwo straight, including winning the second set 6-1.

Posted by Jinah 01/29/2009 at 03:50 PM


Posted by Paige 01/29/2009 at 03:53 PM

Serena just won't leave, I pray that Dinara will win but it will be very close. It's a shame that Elena blew it yesterday, I actually thought that she might win the whole thing. She may never get another draw like that and she may never win a grand slam. It's a shame because she has so much talent, but she chokes in the big matches.

Posted by elisse 01/29/2009 at 03:53 PM

Ani, that is true to some degree, but Serena does give credit at times.

“I think she's playing amazing. I think she's actually playing some of the best tennis on the tour,” said Williams. “She's really stepped up the level of her game to an unbelievable level. I'm going to have to play really well to do well tomorrow. The last time we played she got me.”

taken from this article:

i think she's as graceful and gives credit as much as she needs to.

Posted by Todd 01/29/2009 at 03:55 PM

Best of luck to Serena tomorrow!!
I'm really pulling for her, and with her experience, it's hard to bet against her.

Posted by Jody 01/29/2009 at 04:23 PM

The end of the match was brutal, watching her double fault the set away was awful. The sad thing is that after she broke back she still had a chance in the second set. It's a shame that she lost, she has so much talent and I hate to see it wasted. I don't know if she'll ever be cured of the "yips", they have defentely tarnished her career.

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