TENNIS / SARASOTA CLAY COURT CLASSIC
Myskina faces big-serving Molik
By MIC HUBER
SARASOTA -- Not long after taking care of Nathalie Dechy Saturday, Anastasia Myskina turned her attention to Alicia Molik, her opponent in today's championship match of the Sarasota Clay Court Classic.
Sitting high in the stands at the north end of the stadium court at The Meadows Country Club, Myskina scouted Molik, a qualifier who was busy serving notice that she would be a dangerous foe in today's 1 p.m. final against the tournament's No. 2 seeded player.
What Myskina saw from her vantage point was a devastating performance that probably changed her mind about what she had wished for only about an hour before.
Shortly after her 6-2, 6-4 win over Dechy in Saturday's first semifinal, the 21-year old Russian was lamenting her erratic serve and said she would prefer receiving serve the entire match if that were allowed.
She now knows she should be careful what she wishes for because there is no way she would want to face the power of the serve Molik displayed as she dissected the game of Iva Majoli during a 6-3, 6-4 win in Saturday's second semifinal.
Molik, who has found an all-around game to go with her major weapon, unleashed 17 aces, including 13 in the second set, to end the run of former Bradenton resident Majoli, who had survived a trio of three-set wins to reach the semifinals.
"She served unbelievable," Majoli conceded. "It is frustrating because you are just moving from one side to the other. All her serves were pretty good. … you never know where she is going to with her serve."
Down the middle, up the T, out wide, Molik, who won the first tournament on the WTA tour earlier this year in Hobart, in her native Australia, had her way with the former French Open champion.
"I was serving really well (Saturday)," acknowledged Molik, who came into the tournament ranked No. 89 in the world and had to win three rounds in a qualifying tournament just to make the main draw.
Today she will get a chance for her second title of the year against Myskina, who is ranked No. 11 in the world and looking for her second title of the year as well.
On Saturday, Myskina had little trouble with Dechy, despite the problems she had with her serve and a little patchy spot in the second set.
During the second set, the two combined for six straight service breaks, until Myskina finally held in the ninth game to take a 5-4 lead. She then broke Dechy's serve one last time to close out the match.
"I think I played both sets really good," Myskina said. "I tried to fight for every point.
"I knew, with Nathalie, that if you give her fingers she will take the whole hand."
Myskina constantly relied on her backhand to make certain Dechy could not seize momentum. Myskina either cracked sizzling winners, or patiently lined up her backhand to smoothly hit the ball past Dechy whenever the Frenchwomen moved toward the net.
"It was a weird match," Dechy said. "I had some chances in the second set but every time (Myskina) was down she would play better. She was giving me some free points but on the big points she played well, hitting the ball and mixing it up."
There was little finesse to Molik's game. For most of the match she let her serve, which consistently registers more than 110 miles per hour, do the damage. She then broke Majoli's serve in the ninth game of the final set and cranked a couple more big bombs in the next game to wrap up the match.
"I think they get frustrated because they don't even get to hit the ball," the tall Australian right-hander said of the effect of her serve. "That's good for me. The object out there is to get your opponent frustrated."
She also sent many in the crowd home shaking their heads over the power she possessed and had Myskina and her coach, Jens Gerlach, putting their heads together after the match to talk about how to combat Molik's big serve.
Not only has Molik, 22, won her first title this year by beating five higher-ranked seeds, but she is coming off a performance at the Nasdaq-100 Open in Key Biscayne where she won three rounds, including victories over a pair of seeded players, No. 5 Daniela Hantuchova and No. 28 Elena Likhovtseva, to improve her ranking to No. 71.
Molik battled with the flu early in the week, then gained confidence with each match.
"I have been playing aggressive tennis and it has gotten me to the final," Molik said. "I don't see why I have to change anything, especially for one match. I am just going to keep things the same. I am going to play the way I did (Saturday) and hopefully I will serve as well as I did."
Myskina hopes to combat that serve with a return game that has made up for her troubles with her own serve. And, just in case, she plans to wear the same outfit, a white top and orange shorts, she has worn all week to get to today's final.