Russian captures Pilot Pen for her third WTA title
By Rich DePreta
August 29, 2004
NEW HAVEN -- If one had any doubts about the invasion of teenage Russian tennis players impacting the WTA Tour, doubt no more.
Anna Kournikova might be on an extended tennis hiatus but there's no discounting the long line of Russian girls her early career inspired to follow in her footsteps.
The 2004 New Haven Pilot Pen Tournament received a firsthand glimpse at part of the future of Russian tennis as Elena Bovina outlasted Nathalie Dechy of France, 6-2, 2-6, 7-5 in yesterday's singles championship final.
"It's been an amazing week for me," said Bovina, who hadn't captured a WTA Tour title since the 2002 Moscow and 2002 Quebec City. "I never thought I could win this tourney. I never truly pictured myself getting to the final. I just took it one match at a time."
The 21-year-old Bovina became the 2004 Pilot Pen titlist who could by conquering her U.S. Open doubles partner Dechy in a two-hour-and-two-minute match in grueling 100 degree heat with humidity off the charts.
"The match wasn't decided until the last few games," said Bovina, whose sister tried to call in congratulations on her cell phone during the media conference which was 1 a.m. Moscow time. "Even with the heat, I don't think winning the match was about who was stronger. It was about who was stronger mentally."
Bovina raced through the first set, 6-2, in 29 minutes as Dechy struggled with her first serves (57 percent).
"Nathalie and I practice together a lot," Bovina said. "At times, it felt to me like another practice match not a tournament final."
However, Bovina's groundstrokes took a scattershot approach in the second set as did her first serve percentage (59 percent). Meanwhile, Dechy raised her first serve percentage to 82 percent for a 6-2 win to even the match.
At that point, the players took a 10-minute break under the WTA Tour heat rule as the thermometer on the court registered 100 degrees.
"In the locker room, Nathalie said 'Bleep, it's so hot out there.'" Bovina recounted. "Then we tried to recover for the third set."
As the minutes ticked away, the realization of the championship at stake grew incrementally for both players.
"You're so excited the night before about playing in a final, you can't fall asleep," Bovina said. "Your heart beats two times faster. Then you finally realize it's normal to get that excited."
"I didn't sleep well because of the neck and back injury I suffered in Friday night's semifinal," Dechy said. "The French trainer did a good job working on my back and neck Saturday morning. She allowed me to be loose enough to play. My body was a little tight in the first set but got loose in the second set."
The third set was a roller-coaster ride that began with four service breaks as Bovina led 3-2.
At 3-3, Bovina literally served at love for her first easy game of the match and a 4-3 edge. Dechy held serve for a 4-4 tie.
In Game 9 Bovina started showing championship mettle and motivation for the $93,000 first prize. She overcame two break points then cashed in her third AD point of the game to lead 5-4.
"That game was my biggest opportunity," Dechy said. "I missed my chances to break her."
Bovina, employing serves of 100, 97 and 107 mph, held serve again for 6-5.
In Game 12, Dechy's first serve again malfunctioned on all five points as Bovina's powerful groundstrokes finally ruled the day as the crowd of 7,029 fans were finally free to go rehydrate.
"It was a tough match," Dechy said. "A few points made the difference."
It was Dechy's first final loss and third time she reached the semifinals without cashing in with a title in 2004. She still searches for her first WTA Tour crown since the 2003 Gold Coast -- where ironically she defeated Bovina in three sets including 7-5 in the third set.
Perhaps it won't be as extravagant a wedding following the U.S. Open for Dechy due to the $49,000 runner-up check.
"Losing in the finals is disappointing. But it was good to be here the last day," Dechy said. "It was good preparation for the U.S. Open. It was still a great week after being at the Olympics."
But the day ultimately belonged to Bovina.
"It's great to win a title since my last one was in 2002. It was a great match against a good friend," Bovina said. "It's great to have that feeling again. I'd like to win a couple more titles."
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