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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 Claire 01/29/2009 at 04:27 PM

I am not nor will never be a Serena fan until her attitude changes. I don't expect her to bow down to her opponent or compliment her 100 times, it'd just be nice to see her show some respect or praise. She never gives any credit to her opponent (okay maybe like twice) and she acts like she is so amazing. She's not. She has no right to act like a diva. Until she can drop the attitude, I will continue to cheer against her even though I am an American too. I wish Dinara all of the luck tomorrow, it will NOT be an easy final for her.

Posted by Kate 01/29/2009 at 04:28 PM

I really hope that Dinara doesn't choke tommorrow, like Elena. It should be a great, hard fought battle tomorrow. May the best woman win.

Posted by Lynn 01/29/2009 at 04:30 PM

Well I wish that I could say that I think Dinara will win tomorrow, but the turn around that Serena has made this past week is amazing. She has the defenite obvious edge in tomorrow's final and will most likely walk away with 10 grand slam victories. I am hoping for a good, close match, yesterday's.

Posted by John 01/29/2009 at 04:33 PM

I am very happy that Serena and Dinara are in tomorrows final, it should be a great match. I think it will be closer than yesterdays, but you can never be sure. Here's hoping for a hard fought battle with the better woman winning. Hopefully whoever wins tomorrow will keep the number one ranking for a while.

Posted by James 01/29/2009 at 04:36 PM

Poor Elena, she played so well all tournament, and then she just lost it yesterday. I don't know if she was intimidated or stressed or nervous about possibly making it into another grand slam final, but she blew it. I feel sorry for her because she isn't getting any younger and there are a whole slew of new girls who are ready to takeover. Tomorrow's final should be intresting, will Dinara choke like she did against Serena in the 2008 US Open semi's or is she finally ready to be a grand slam champion.

Posted by Kim 01/29/2009 at 04:39 PM

What a disaster yesterday, what happened to Elena's wonderful game that she had these past 12 days? What happened to her out there? I really believed that she was ready to step it up and not throw the match away. She had the adavantage before the match, but she quickly made us remember why she has never won a grand slam. It's a shame because we all know that she could have beaten Serena had she played to her full potential.

Posted by Jessica 01/29/2009 at 04:41 PM

Has long as Dinara doesn't choke, go mental or start making 90 errors every game then I give her a fair chance against Serena. Yes Serena has the obvious edge against Dinara and is experienced, but Dinara may be ready to win a grand slam and show everyone she is ready to be number one. It should be a great match and I'm hoping it's not a blow out on either side.

Posted by Danielle 01/29/2009 at 04:43 PM

It was horrible watching Elena go back to her old serving woes. I thought she dropped that lousy serve before the Olympics. I guess old habits are hard to drop. Well here's hoping this loss doesn't get her down and she can comeback and prove her critics wrong in Paris. I'll be rooting for her, I'll always be a fan of Elena.

Posted by Mallory 01/29/2009 at 04:47 PM

I thought that the Dinara-Vera match would go to three sets, but Dinara was just too good. I am going to go against everyone and say that she will win tomorrow, but unfortuntely I can't say this with confidence. All of the credit to Serena yesterday, she played excellent. Elena wasen't playing her best tennis, but that's because Serena was making winners every other shot and her serving has defentely improved. I know that Serena has the clear edge against Dinara tomorrow, we all know how good Serena's record is in grand slams. Well hopefully Dinara is ready to win this final and prove everyone wrong. Here's hoping for a close, fair match with many great rallies.

Posted by joe 01/29/2009 at 05:07 PM

Tom, another great post. I really enjoy your blogs from tourneys. Here's hoping for a Perotta slam this year!

Posted by Lynne Danley 01/29/2009 at 06:32 PM

Well, all I can say is that Serena got awfully lucky, with Victoria Azarenka getting sick and the roof getting closed in the middle of her match against Svetlana. I feel quite sure Azarenka would have beaten her, but Sveta gets the yips, too. That said, I used to find the chips on the shoulders of the Williams sisters almost unbearable and I admit I couldn't stand the arrogance behind those phony smiles and giggles. Now that they are at/near 30, however, and maybe spending more time away from their obnoxious dad, they do seem to be becoming a little more gracious. It's good to see. I will, though, be pulling for Safina. I admire all the hard work she's put in and that she plays in so many matches, not just waltzes in like a prima donna during the slams.

Posted by Alex87 01/29/2009 at 07:05 PM

I hope Dinara can give her a lesson,Serena was the favorite(for example) against Maria in 2004 Wimbledon final too remember and she lost in 2 sets,I would like to hear another dumb excuse from her again,she shouldn't be even in,she lost to Azarenka
in my mind.Why they didn't close the roof that day for Victoria
Why they didn't call mach longer Medical time out for her like it's says in AO tournament rules???

Posted by BobK 01/29/2009 at 07:36 PM

I wouldn't jump to conclusions about Elena's yips being back so soon. She won 15 matches in a row in grueling conditions and had a 9-time slam champion across the net. I hear nerves make your legs 10 pounds heavier, but even with Elena's excellent fitness I imagine it may have been pretty hard to push off on her serve.

On another note, Serena should definitely be thankful the tournmanet organizers closed the roof. When the roof was open she was playing like a top 50 player at best. Don't know how the Azarenka match would have turned out (since we've seen Serena come back time and again) but I completely understand why Kuznetsova was furious with the organizers for closing the roof. The court temperature was pretty much the same for the two ladies quarters and they made Elena and Carla play through it, but then Serena struggles and they close the roof? Obviously not Serena's doing but I question the Australian Open for seemingly helping her out (I imagine a Serena v. Dementieva semifinal was a better ratings grabber than Kuzi) Oh well, conspiracy theories aside - I don't feel like Serena has really reached her usual 2nd week granslam form yet and thus will be rooting for Safina. But if Serena brings her '07 final form (or even '08 US Open) there's nothing people can say but "too good."

Posted by Slice-n-DIce 01/29/2009 at 08:43 PM

A thoroughly enjoyable read, Tom, and I think you nailed the subject dow quite well. Perhaps there's something about facing Serena Williams that can cause a disease in remission to reappear with a vengeance, taking down its host in the process.

At any rate, Safina's qide forehands have been almost as good as Serena's, and her mid-court forehands better, at least those displayed in the Zvonareva match. I think it will come down to the two most important shots in tennis -- the serve and the return. Both women have shown considerable confidence and efficacy with these two shots.

We all know how dangerous Serena's return of serve can be; the deciding factor in the match, IMO, will be how well Safina can neutralize that Williams weapon.

Posted by Gerhard 01/29/2009 at 09:26 PM

There is no sense comparing Williams sisters with any female tennis player because they are loaded with both male muscles of great power and male hormons.
Before any competition between female atletes, there must be proof that male hormons are below the level for males and female hormones are beyond minimum level for females. Both sisters Williams same as Mauresmo and Martina Navratilova would fail those tests and will be classified to compete in the male competition. This is FARCE letting Williams sisters playing against female tennis players.

Posted by Gerhard 01/29/2009 at 09:36 PM

There is no sense comparing Williams sisters with any female tennis player because they are loaded with both male muscles of great power and male hormones. They are of the strength of professional boxer o better yoet, wrestler.
Before any competition between female atletes, there must be proof that their male hormons are below the level for males and female hormones are beyond minimum level for females. Both sisters Williams same as Mauresmo and Martina Navratilova would fail those tests and will be classified to compete in the male competition. This is FARCE letting Williams sisters playing against female tennis players.

Posted by denver Phils. 01/29/2009 at 10:59 PM

....i'm rooting for elena but then in the back of my head i just know that only very few people could ever really beat serena. one is henin and the other one is her sister venus which i like more because she has tremendous grace and not as rude when losing compared to serena.

Posted by 01/29/2009 at 11:59 PM



Posted by Laura K 01/30/2009 at 01:07 AM

Sorry to break it to you but some players just have natural ability to walk into tournaments and play their best. She's a "diva" cuz she doesn't play a gazillion tournaments and peaks at Slams. Talk about sour grapes.

Safina Jankovic and others have to work hard and play lots of tournaments and I respect that. But they are still slamless. And Serena at one pint played a gazillion tournaments but then she figured out she didn't have to. So she's a diva cuz she's naturally talented??? U guys are so funny. . .

Posted by JillfromNY 01/30/2009 at 02:49 AM

I don't even worry about the Haters anymore. I spend all my time rooting on Venus and Serena. That's alot more fun!! Go Serena!! I have enjoyed watching Dinara mature and become a much more complete player, but I think Serena is the better player. Hope it's a great match!!!

Posted by 01/30/2009 at 06:35 AM

All you haters look at Serena's stats when playing final match! Safina is very talented lady and she might pull the upset, but I doubt it!! If she wants to be a DIVA let her be because she earn it!! All the way Serena....

Posted by Andrew Miller 01/30/2009 at 09:12 AM

Hello Mr. Perrotta! Any chance you may comment on Serena Williams AND Monica Seles? If Serena wins today, she overtakes Seles in overall # of grand slams for WTA players. Monica was one of the few who always respected the Williams sisters. She also may be the basis for much of today's power game (outside of Graf).

Any chance to query Serena Williams about this? Mr. Bodo had asked her about Monica in 2007.

Posted by tina 01/30/2009 at 07:31 PM

Serena is the only player since Seles that I have total faith in. Monica would stare down 6 set points against, match points against, and so often swatted them away like annoying flies. I feel equally secure with Serena.

I think it's because Serena hates to lose with as much passion as Seles loved to win, if that makes any sense. (I'm probably too tired to be posting.)

Posted by kim 01/31/2009 at 06:02 AM

live australian tennis open

Posted by Karen Fanjoy 03/11/2009 at 06:08 PM

The yips is common in a lot of sports and are due to the internal pressures that are created from within.

Once a person is able to work on the aspects of the stresses that have caused the yips, then the symptom (the yips) goes away, as the reason for it being there has been dismantled. Sometimes different expereinces can cause or eliminate problems throughout our lifetime. That includes everything from allergies to stress responses to disease.

Check out the info at or


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