Kuznetsova, 19, is too mature for Dementieva in women's final

No. 9 seed calms nerves, handles fellow Russian

U.S. Open

September 12, 2004|By Diane Pucin | Diane Pucin,LOS ANGELES TIMES

NEW YORK - While she's still wearing braces, Svetlana Kuznetsova possesses a tennis game of massive power and mature shot making and now she is a champion.

Kuznetsova, 19, became the first Russian woman to win the U.S. Open yesterday, an inevitable occurrence since her opponent, Elena Dementieva, is Russian, too.

In control all the way, dictating points with a forehand that made the crowd go "Oooh," No. 9 seed Kuznetsova left sixth-seeded Dementieva without energy to fight by the end of the 6-3, 7-5 win.

If these two unlikely finalists - each had taken out a higher-seeded American in the semifinals - didn't win over the 20,524 Arthur Ashe Stadium fans with tennis, they won them over after the match with their words.

On Sept. 11, 2004, three years after the World Trade Center tragedy, Kuznetsova came to the court wearing a baseball cap with "FDNY" lettered on the front, a tribute to the New York firefighters. And Dementieva walked behind Kuznetsova in a cap with "NYPD" on the front to honor New York City police.

And after the final point, Dementieva brought stillness to the night when she said: "It's a great day to be a tennis player, but also a day to remember. On Sept. 11 you guys lost hundreds of people. On Sept. 1, 2004, we lost hundreds of children in Russia. I want you guys to do everything possible, stay together to battle terrorism."

Kuznetsova is the third different Russian woman to win a major title this year - 23-year-old Anastasia Myskina beat Dementieva in the French Open final and 17-year-old Maria Sharapova beat Serena Williams to win Wimbledon - and five Russians are ranked in the top 10.

"We Russians, we want to fight hard for every point," said Dementieva, who was slowed by a pulled left thigh muscle. "I don't know why but we do."

Kuznetsova even went out to practice for 15 minutes after she had hoisted the winner's trophy with her Spanish coach, Sergio Casal. It is her usual routine, a way, she said, to get rid of her tension and her extra energy.

In the match, Kuznetsova quickly began slapping winners in both corners - 34 to only seven for Dementieva - and hitting herself on her thigh between games.

Her father, Alexandr Kuznetsov, is a cycling coach; her mother, Galina Tsareva, was a six-time world champion cyclist and her brother, Nikolai Kuznetsov, won a cycling silver medal at the 1996 Olympics. But Kuznetsova said cycling bored her. And when she was 15, her family sent Kuznetsova to Spain for better tennis training and coaching.

But training and coaching and the forehand Casal said "can hurt people," still couldn't calm Kuznetsova's nerves.

"I was talking to everybody," Kuznetsova said. "What I should do? I was like, here it is, two minutes to go, OK, I be ready and here comes Martina [Navratilova, her former doubles partner]. I must have been green color, blue maybe. And Martina told me, `Remember, I did it when it was my first final, I won my first final, you can do it too.' That helped me a lot."

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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