Dementieva frosted after getting 'iced' by Pierce
NEW YORK -- It happens all the time in sport.
In the NBA, teams ice the free throw shooter at the line, giving him a little more time to think about his game-winning shot. In the NFL, teams traditionally take timeouts to allow the kicker to ponder the gravity of his impending, potential game-winning kick.
This is accepted protocol and falls well within the rules of the game. In tennis, there are no timeouts, per se. Unless, of course, someone has to go to the bathroom or has an injury. Which brings us to Friday's contentious U.S. Open semifinal match between Mary Pierce and Elena Dementieva.
Dementieva had just won the first set, handily, at 6-3 in 34 minutes, when Pierce iced her at the line.
Pierce called for the WTA Tour trainer, who worked diligently on Pierce's back and taped her thigh. At one point, Pierce was laid out on the court and appeared to be enjoying a massage at the spa. Dementieva, fuming in her changeover chair, watched the normal two-minute changeover time swell to 12 minutes.
When they finally returned to the court, the Russian was a different player. Pierce -- who was not visibly hampered by injuries -- took advantage in the change of momentum and won the match 3-6, 6-2, 6-2. She advances to Saturday night's final.
Afterward, Dementieva essentially accused Pierce of cheating -- at least on a moral level.
"You can change the game around by winning unbelievable point or by changing the rhythm, I mean, it's the fair point," Dementieva said in her post-match press conference. "But by taking like 12 minutes timeout -- I don't think it was a fair play.
"But she could do it by the rules. And she did it.
"If that's the only way she can beat me, I mean, it's up to her."
Which begged this question: Was Pierce injured and, if so, badly enough to warrant a 10-minute break for treatment?
Pierce denied the charge, saying she injured her thigh in the previous match against Amelie Mauresmo and went against the trainer's request to tape it so she wouldn't give Dementieva the psychological advantage of seeing her opponent injured. Her back, she said, started bothering her at the beginning of the match, possibly because she was overcompensating for her leg. After conferring with the trainer, Pierce said, she opted to take care of both problems at the same time.
So, Pierce was asked, there was no gamesmanship?
"No," she said flatly. "No, no, not at all. I mean, I'm 30 years old. I've been on the tour for 17 years. I don't believe in that. I don't think that that will make a difference.
"I believe at this level where we're playing, were all very good players, we're all very mentally strong. I had injuries that I needed to attend to, to help me. I was hoping that would help, that I could play better -- and I did.
"I just needed to do what I needed to do for my body and that was really it."
What if Pierce had been on the other side of the umpire's chair?
"I think she won the first game of the second set," Pierce countered. "I wouldn't say that changed a lot. We even played a third set, so she had a whole set of she wanted to get back into it."
According to WTA Tour rules, Pierce was technically within her rights. When a player is injured, she is permitted a three-minute period of evaluation by the trainer and a three-minute treatment window. A second injury permits another six-minute block of time, but the 12-minute total is the maximum allowed during a changeover.
Dementieva, despite appearances to the contrary, denied that the move affected her game.
"I was just trying to keep warm," she said, "just stay focused because that was pretty long.
"I wasn't angry, because that's the way she play. If she has 20 seconds, she going to use 25 seconds between points. I mean, she use all the extra time that she has. That's the way she play and I was ready for this."
Pierce, 30, is playing some of the best tennis of her life. In 12 previous U.S. Opens she only managed to reach the quarterfinals twice, in 1994 and 1999. Now, she stands on the threshold of her first Grand Slam title since the 2000 French Open and her third overall.
"Everybody gets injured," Pierce said. "There are timeouts for certain reasons. Some players go to the bathroom. Some change their clothes. Elena went and changed her clothes after I won the second set, so it's part of the game."
Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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