By Greg Laub, USTA.com
Serena Williams (1) vs. Elena Dementieva (5)
Serena Williams had one goal on her return to the court following an eight-month absence due to injuries. She didn’t want to lose in the first round. However, she also added that she wasn’t surprised to reach the finals either.
And that is just what the top seed at Key Biscayne has done, as she has dusted off the rust (was there any?) and plowed her way back to the finals with five straight victories, the last a 6-4, 6-4 semifinal win over No. 25 Eleni Daniilidou. Serena said she has most of her legs and wind back, but more importantly, her confidence is back too.
"Physically this is great, but mentally it's awesome. I really, really am proud of myself because it's hard to come back,” Serena said after the win over Daniilidou. “It's nerve-racking."
The two-time defending champion takes her confidence (and either her white and silver corset dress, the revealing tank top and hot pants, or a wild card new outfit) into the finals against No. 5 Elena Dementieva on Saturday.
Dementieva, who upset Venus Williams in the quarterfinals, is coming off a relatively easy 6-4, 6-2 semifinal win over fellow Russian and No. 8 seed Nadia Petrova.
Serena Williams will get a chance to avenge her sister Venus's defeat on Saturday, and it will be just the second time she and Dementieva have met.
The first meeting was last year at Wimbledon in the fourth round, which Serena won 6-2, 6-2 on her way to beating Venus for the Grand Slam title. That was the last major final Serena has played in at all until tomorrow’s match.
The key component to the outcome will likely be the service games of both women.
"I think she has the best serve on the tour,” Dementieva conceded. “So I'm going to be in trouble on her serve.”
Serving could very well be a large part of the match. Along with Serena’s monster service game, Dementieva’s service game is perhaps the worst on the tour right now amongst top players.
A quick comparison: In their five matches so far here at Key Biscayne, Serena has smashed 31 aces and committed just 9 double faults, while Dementieva has just three aces to go along with an incredible 48 double faults.
Serena’s first serve percentage in those five matches has been well over 70% on average, with Dementieva’s closer to 60%.
Elena Dementieva of Russia
© Getty Images
On top of that, Serena’s return game is top-notch, and Dementieva’s return game is just mediocre.
So how does the Russian stand a chance?
"I think (my serve) is going to be too slow for her," Dementieva joked. "It's going to be kind of a drop shot for her."
That may have been said in jest, but her junk-ball second serve can be difficult to handle, and it seemed to tie up Venus in the quarterfinals.
But the best shot of Dementieva pulling off the upset is to be patient and stay determined. This is probably the longest stretch Serena had not played some sort of competitive tennis in years, so it’s possible she could tire at the end of this long tournament.
If Dementieva can be more accurate with her first serve and run Serena around a little bit, the American could tire enough to lose something off her own serve. With a little luck, the match could reach a third set, where anything is possible.
But, knowing the heart and passion Serena always seems to muster up when she’s down, even fatigue from an eight-month sabbatical is unlikely to stop her.
Williams' Road to the Finals
Round Opponent Result
M. Marrero 6-1, 6-0
E. Likhvtseva (31) 6-1, 4-6, 6-3
M. Sharapova (17) 6-4, 6-3
J. Craybas 6-0, 6-1
E. Daniilidou (25) 6-4, 6-4
Dementieva's Road to the Finals
Round Opponent Result
N. Petrova (8) 6-4, 6-2
V. Williams (2) 6-3, 5-7, 7-6
J. Dokic (12) 5-7, 6-1, 6-3
M. Sanchez Lorenzo (26) 6-4, 6-3
R. Dragomir Ilie 6-4, 6-1