By Michael DiRocco
April 21 2003
The Florida Times Union
AMELIA ISLAND -- Elena Dementieva wasn't really sure what she was supposed to be feeling or how she was supposed to react after she beat Lindsay Davenport to win the Bausch & Lomb Championships yesterday.
Toss her racket? Pump her fist? Jump up and down? Cry?
Dementieva had no clue. She settled for a big smile, a hand over her mouth, and a hug with her mother, Vera. That would have to do as a celebration of her first career WTA Tour singles title.
"It feels amazing," said the 10th-seeded Dementieva, who is the lowest seed to win the title in the tournament's 24-year history. "It's like a dream come true. I was waiting for this moment all my life."
The 21-year-old Dementieva had failed in her four previous tournament finals, including the 2000 Olympics, but was successful yesterday after rallying from a two-game deficit in the second set to win 4-6, 7-5, 6-3 at Amelia Island Plantation. Her celebration was low-key because she was still numb.
"Maybe in two days," said Dementieva, whose first win came in her 106th WTA Tour tournament. "It's just kind of a strange feeling for me because I never have [won] a title in my career.
Quote of the Day: "I was waiting for this moment all my life." -- Elena Dementieva, on winning her first WTA title yesterday.
"Maybe we'll go somewhere to celebrate, but it's going to be a celebration in Moscow."
Dementieva should be celebrated, but for more than her win against the second-seeded Davenport. A record 14 seeded players qualified for the Round of 16, and Dementieva had to beat No. 8 Amanda Coetzer, No. 4 Daniela Hantuchova and No. 1 Justine Henin-Hardenne to reach yesterday's final. She beat all but Henin-Hardenne and Davenport in straight sets.
"She's playing well to pull through the matches she did this week, beating Hantuchova, Coetzer, Henin-Hardenne and myself," Davenport said. "I was unaware that she hadn't won [a singles title], but with the players she beat that's a great first tournament win to get under your belt."
For a while it appeared as if Davenport, whose previous opponents had raved she was playing some of the best tennis of her career, was going to win her second Bausch & Lomb Championships title. She won the first set and led the second 4-2 before Dementieva turned the match around.
Dementieva gained control by finding her serve. She ripped four consecutive 100-plus mph serves -- a surprise because she had struggled with it throughout the match -- to win at love, finishing the game with the first of her two aces.
"It seemed like whatever she was hitting was coming a lot harder and [she hit] a lot more winners," Davenport said. "She started going for it, and I don't think there was much I could do.
"It felt like she was just swinging at will and hitting winners with her eyes closed."
Dementieva admitted she was tentative in the first set, and she was able to get into a groove by forgetting the score.
"If you want to beat Lindsay, you have to play aggressive," Dementieva said. "You have to go for the winner, otherwise she's going to hit it and there is no chance to come back. I was trying to find my rhythm, and finally I did."
Dementieva broke Davenport to tie the set at 4, and then won a five-deuce game on service to take a 5-4 lead. Davenport held serve, but Dementieva won the next two games to win the set. Davenport held serve once in the final set.
"That was the difference," said Davenport, who won $48,500. "If I had been able to hold my serve, I think I would have done a little bit better. I was hoping to break her. Her serve is not the strongest part of her game.
"I wasn't consistent enough with the placement and was probably going for too much and a good returner, and once it started happening, it seemed like it kept happening and happening over and over again."
That's how Dementieva felt the past five years. She had a breakthrough year in 2000, when she improved from No. 62 to No. 12 in the world rankings and climbed as high as No. 9 (26 days in two stints in 2001). However, she had not won in three previous appearances in finals (Acapulco and Moscow in 2001, 's-Hertogenbosch in 2002).
"I had a few chances when I was playing in the final to win a title, but I didn't take the advantage," she said. "It was some moments in my life that I sensed that I'm not going to win this title, never. It was the dark days.
"I'm glad I came through and finally I did it."