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Pierce beats Dementieva; Clijsters tops Sharapova

9/9/2005 - Tennis

NEW YORK -- Mary Pierce resorted to gamesmanship and Kim
Clijsters recovered the spark she'd momentarily lost to set up a
U.S. Open final between one of the oldest women in the game and the
toughest on tour this year.

Pierce brought her famous histrionics to a new level Friday -- a
12-minute, double-injury timeout after she lost the first set,
another tape job afterward, doses of eye drops here and there,
endless poses and finger-blowing between shots -- before she finally
put away last year's rattled runner-up, Elena Dementieva, 3-6, 6-2,
6-2.
Clijsters watched five match points disappear before her
disbelieving eyes in the second set against top-seeded Maria
Sharapova, got crushed in a tiebreak, then found the fire she
needed to win 6-2, 6-7 (4), 6-3 and remain in pursuit of her first
Grand Slam title.
The way the two matches played out, the final in prime time
Saturday night has the makings of a soap opera.
It will be Pierce's first U.S. Open final in a 17-year-career
and her second major final this year as she tries to atone for the
shellacking she suffered against Justine Henin-Hardenne at the
French three months ago. For the 22-year-old Clijsters, who sat out
last year's Open with a wrist injury after reaching the final in
2003, this will be a chance to win her first major title and
seventh tournament this year.
The richest rewards in Grand Slam and women's sport history also
are up for grabs -- $2.2 million, double the top prize, for
Clijsters if she wins, $1.65 million for Pierce, since they
finished 1-2 in the new U.S. Open Series leading up to the
tournament.
At 30, Pierce knows all the tricks of the tennis trade, and she
used them to good effect against Dementieva, a 23-year-old Russian
who had enough trouble overcoming her own tragic serve, never mind
waiting for Pierce to play.
Pierce had a minor injury -- a right quad muscle she tweaked in
her quarterfinal victory over fellow Frenchwoman Amelie Mauresmo --
but she decided, in the interests of strategy, not to tape it
before playing Dementieva.
"I didn't want my opponent to know there was anything wrong
with me," Pierce said.
Dementieva didn't have to see a bandage to know she could win
points against Pierce by running her from side to side. Avoiding
the double-faults that often plague her -- she had 62 in the first
five rounds -- Dementieva seemed on the verge of a straight-sets
victory even with her powder-puff serves.
Pierce, though, wasn't about to give up so easily on a chance to
claim the third major title of her career, five years after she won
the French and 10 years after she won the Australian.
"After I lost the first set, I was like, `OK, I need to get
help because I can't play this way,"' Pierce said.
The rules allow a player one timeout per injury, and each
timeout is not supposed to exceed 6 minutes -- 3 minutes for
evaluation, 3 minutes for treatment. Because Pierce claimed two
injuries -- she said her leg problem was affecting her back -- she
was allowed two timeouts.
She lay on her stomach while the trainer massaged her back, then
did a couple of yoga stretches. She had her right thigh wrapped
with a yard of tape. While Dementieva went back onto the court to
warm up, Pierce got down on the ground again and the trainer worked
some more on her back.
"You can change the game around by winning an unbelievable
point or by changing the rhythm," Dementieva said. "By taking a
12-minute 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.
"I've never had such a long break. I was trying just to keep
warm, stay focused because that was pretty long."
Dementieva was thrown off almost as much by the time Pierce took
between points when they resumed play. Pierce always plays
deliberately, but in this match she got away with more delays than
usual.
"If she has 20 seconds, she's going to use 25 seconds between
points," Dementieva said.
Pierce denied the timeouts were gamesmanship.
"No. No, not at all," she protested.
"I had injuries that I needed to attend to to help me. I was
hoping that would help, that I could play better, and it did."
Pierce surely looked like a different player in the second and
third sets, while Dementieva's level dropped. The Russian
double-faulted four times in the final set, running her tournament
total to 68, and repeatedly looked at her mother and coach, Vera,
for encouragement.
It did no good.
"Maybe I was a little bit angry in the second set, but then I
know if I want to win this match, I have to be focused, not think
about what she did," Dementieva said.
Clijsters had to stop thinking about what Sharapova did to her
at the end of the second set. Clijsters, up a set and leading 6-5
in the second, had triple match points at love-40 when Sharapova
double-faulted. But the 18-year-old Russian produced a great drop
shot to save the first, came up with other ways to save the next
two, then saved two more match points before holding serve to send
the set to a tiebreak that she also won to even the match.
Clijsters slumped in her chair, frustrated that a first major
title might once again slip from her grasp.
Over the loudspeakers came the Beatles song, "Can't Buy Me
Love," with the lyrics, "I don't care too much for money, money
can't buy me love."
Money can't buy Clijsters a Grand Slam trophy either, but she
just might earn it if she plays on Saturday the way she did in the
third set against a weary Sharapova. A $2.2 million check wouldn't
be unwelcome, but that would mean less to the Belgian than the
trophy.
"I'm not going to go out there tomorrow thinking, 'I'm playing
for $2.2 million.' No, not at all," she said. "It's a great
bonus. But that's not what you play for."