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Thursday, June 3, 2004
Myskina showing more mental strength

By Pam Shriver
Special to ESPN.com

Well, the plot lines were interesting -- three semifinalists in uncharted territory and another trying to make a comeback -- but then the matches fell flat on Thursday.

After losing the first set of the semifinal, Jennifer Capriati won the first game of the next. Time to settle in and get ready for her to play another of her typical three-set matches. Then, surprisingly, Capriati never caught fire. Anastasia Myskina gave Capriati enough free points to push it to a third set but she couldn't make use of it. As it was, it was never a match. Totally anticlimactic.

In fact, the two Russians were far and away the better players, as Elena Dementieva easily handled Paola Suarez in the other semifinal. Myskina, however, was much more composed than Dementieva, who started to look like she was questioning herself. On the change of ends, Dementieva did deep-knee bends and seemed to almost be hyperventilating. She shouldn't have been tired physically, so all of that was a show of nerves.

How will those nerves hold up in this all-Russian final Saturday? There's the match on the court -- and then there's the match between the ears. In this championship, the one between the ears is more interesting. A Russian woman has never won a major. Dementieva and Myskina are both 22 and come from Moscow. There's obviously a history here. That will bring a lot of emotions to the table. Add to that, they're both playing in their first major final, and this match begins to boil over with intangibles.

It's hard to know who might win because they're unproven in this situation.

Dementieva breaks serve a lot -- and needs to because of the weakness of her serve. ESPN's Shot Spot showed that Dementieva has served every single ball to her right-handed opponent's forehand. She's not served one ball to the backhand side. It's stunning that she can win with such predictability. It puts even more pressure on her to break serve.

Based on her play against Capriati, Myskina looks stronger. She had a good game plan and stuck with it. She's mentally handling this tournament better. She can get very emotional and irritated with her coach. However, being in a major final, where seriousness is paramount, rather than drawing out the emotions, players can sometimes use them to concentrate more. Your eyes don't wander around the stadium and you tend to get down to business. Earlier in the event, it's easier to lose it. So, this serious stage should make Myskina do what she did against Capriati -- stay on task.

Putting it all together -- Dementieva's shaky serve and mental game compared to Myskina's newfound maturity -- Myskina should win her first Grand Slam title.

Obviously the Belgians, Justine Henin-Hardenne and Kim Clijsters have been a sensation in women's tennis as the No. 1 and No. 2 players for the past few months. Behind them, though, the progress of the Russians has been the other huge story. The only thing missing was a major title, and now that's going to be taken care of. Now the Russian women are legit.

ESPN tennis analyst Pam Shriver won 21 singles and 112 doubles crowns, including 22 Grand Slam titles.