Douchevina finds Clijsters at the end of hard road to first tour final
By John Roberts at Eastbourne
18 June 2005
Until yesterday, Vera Douchevina's main claim to fame was that she defeated her fellow Russian Maria Sharapova in the 2002 Wimbledon junior singles final.
Today, the 18-year-old from Moscow will compete in her first WTA Tour final. Her opponent is Kim Clijsters, the winner of 23 titles and one of the favourites for Wimbledon.
While glorious sunshine at the Hastings Direct International Championships here blessed Douchevina, it may have proved something of a drain on her semi-final opponent, Roberta Vinci, of Italy.
Vinci began the day by completing her quarter-final against Anastasia Myskina of Russia. Having taken the opening set against the fourth-seeded 2004 French Open champion, before rain curtailed Thursday's play, Vinci prevailed 6-4, 7-6, winning the tie-break 7-3.
After resting for the hour and 43 minutes it took Clijsters to overcome Svetlana Kuznetsova, the Russian defending champion, Vinci won the first set against Douchevina. The Italian was twice within two points of victory, only for Douchevina to win a second-set tie-break 8-6 and go on to win 2-6, 7-6, 6-3.
"We both played a lot of matches, including the qualifying," Douchevina said, "but maybe Vinci was a bit tired after playing Myskina."
Kuznetsova would have appreciated some cloud cover during the critical opening game of the deciding set against Clijsters. "I served against the sun and against the wind," she said, recalling her moment of downfall in the only break of serve of the set.
"I had a chance to break back, but this is grass. It's not easy to learn. I was not 100 per cent into the match. I had too many ups and downs."
Kuznetsova had three break points in the second game of the final set and three more as Clijsters served out at 5-4 for a 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 win.
It was surprising that the concluding set passed with only one service break after five in the first set and four in the second of a thunderous duel of deep, pounding groundstrokes and some spectacular errors.
"My forehand went off a little bit," said Clijsters, "but I got it back in the third set."
Douchevina said she was not surprised that Sharapova developed into a champion after their girls' final at Wimbledon.
"Maria had a good year in 2003 and last year, of course," she said. "This will be my first final, but I am in the top 50, so I am progressing this year."
Martina Hingis and Jana Novotna, two retired Wimbledon champions who played exhibition matches yesterday, are keen to see Sharapova's Wimbledon defence, which opens next Tuesday.
"Last year it was a big surprise that Maria won," Hingis said. "She doesn't look to be the favourite right now, but I think when you come back to a certain event where you've done well in the past you have confidence.
"I think she might have a special motivation about it. Otherwise, maybe Justine [Henin-Hardenne] will do well. She will be going into the event with confidence, having made the final before."
Novotna, who lost to Hingis in the 1997 final and returned in triumph the following year, said: "It's very unpredictable. The weather can be a factor. It's going to be a fun championship. It will be very interesting to see how Sharapova can handle being a defending champion."
Hingis and Novotna said Sharapova's commercial image was good for tennis.
"I think she's handling it pretty well, and I think it's excellent for women's tennis," said Novotna. "I think her tennis still remains her main focus and she's still out there trying to win the major championships. And I think it's very nice to see she can put it all together and balance it well enough to continue to play well."
Hingis said: "In tennis in general there haven't been that many good contracts since the Williams sisters, so it's good to see people invest in tennis again. Maria's a great personality, winning Wimbledon at such a young age."
Roger Federer has spoken of the encouragement he received from Hingis during his early days.
"I'm so happy for Roger," Hingis said. "He started winning with me, at the Hopman Cup. He got the taste of how to a win a tournament. Then we won the next week in Sydney together, and then he started a winning routine. It's great to watch him play beautiful tennis."
Questioned on the issue of equal prize-money for men and women at Wimbledon, Novotna caused the biggest laugh of the day when she put on a superior air, smiled and said: "Oh, we just don't care any more. They can do whatever they want to do."