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Wednesday, March 31, 2004
Venus not her old self yet

By Cynthia Faulkner
ESPN.com

KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. -- Match point said it all. Elena Dementieva sent a 63-mph second serve to Venus Williams, who dumped it into the net.

It's perhaps an indication of just how much Venus is struggling that she gave credit to Dementieva for earning the 6-3, 5-7, 7-6 (3) quarterfinal win Wednesday at the Nasdaq-100 Open. Although not quite as self critical as sister Serena (who plays in the semis on Thursday), Venus usually tells you exactly how she beat herself. Not this day.

"I lifted my game a little bit in the second set and, you know, I just couldn't -- I didn't have any room for errors today," Venus said. "I couldn't (afford to) make mistakes. She was just playing so well."

In comparison to Venus' 51 unforced errors and 11 double faults, Dementieva had 34 unforced errors with the same number of double faults. Both players were broken six times. Calling it a mediocre match is charitable.

There was some discussion about the nine-minute injury timeout Venus took in the second set. From the stands, it was hard to tell what happened, but if you watched it in slow motion on TV, her right foot rolled at 6-5, 30-15. She played one more point before calling for the trainer at 30-30.

"I just felt like maybe I could walk it off, and I was going to try to play that point," Venus said.

The trainer taped her foot and ankle, and she won the next two points for the set.

In her interview afterward, Dementieva said, "After the medical break, I was thinking she was a good actress because she was moving so much better than before."

"Maybe I should talk to her," Venus said. "I clearly twisted my ankle, and I had issues there. If that's the way she feels, that's fine. These days, in order be a champ and to be a winner, you have to play under all circumstances, and I think that's what I did."

Since the tournament began, Venus has expressed concern about the possibility of dealing with another injury after being off for half of the season last year. Her ranking had slipped to No. 17 before this loss.

"I didn't even know it was 17," Venus said earlier this week. "I thought I was outside of the top 20. When they said that, I was like, 'Yes!' ... I have about five tournaments in my record. It's a pretty good ranking for that number of tournaments."

After recovering from an abdominal strain, Venus returned to play in January but hasn't made it past the quarterfinals in any tournament. She's only played 10 matches and a couple more at an exhibition.

After today's loss, Venus said she feels her game is coming along.

"Just on the up and up," she said, her voice taking on a slightly upbeat lilt for the first time.

Each said the windy day played some factor in their serve toss.

"If you want to be a champion, it's not about -- it's not all about your serve," Dementieva said. "You have to win no matter what."

Right. Easy to tell the media, but not so easy to explain to your coach why you ended up with a first serve percentage of 54 percent. Especially when Olga Morozova was a serve and volley player.

"She can't see me play like that," Dementieva said, laughing. "I'm gonna have a tough conversation after this second serve, you know, today. Probably I'm gonna have a little practice this afternoon with her.

"But I don't want to."

Despite, Dementieva's serving struggles, Venus handed her a huge gift in three consecutive double faults, which she said she didn't realize she'd made. They were hard to miss as they came at Venus' first match point.

And Dementieva said something about Venus' mistake not often heard from other players before, indicating, perhaps, the fear factor is diminishing.

"I just said to myself, "She's just like you, you know," Dementieva said. "She can be nervous."

Cynthia Faulkner is the tennis editor for ESPN.com.