Dementieva Russia's best to offer

BILL LANKHOF, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:55 AM ET

She's got Hollywood looks.

She comes from Russia, lithe and lovely with a devastating backhand handy on the tennis court or in the media interview room.

On this day, the hair is knotted but small tresses wave perkily in the blustery wind at the Rexall Centre. She hangs out with hockey stars. Admired, she was awarded the Women's Tennis Association sportsmanship award in 2008.

She is the best that Russian tennis has to offer and if you're thinking Maria Sharapova ... you've been staring at that Maxim centrespread too long.

Her name is Elena Dementieva. The other Russian. Yesterday she beat Australia's Samantha Stosur 7-6, 6-1, 6-3 at the Rogers Cup, gaining her fourth consecutive semifinal berth at a WTA event. It sets up a date with Serena Williams, a rematch of their classic Wimbledon confrontation that women's tennis can only hope might blossom into a rivalry approaching that of Nadal-Federer.

"There's competition between all of us (on the Tour), not just between me and Serena," said Dementieva, doing her darndest to take the life out of a story line. That's Dementieva. She's got looks. She's got game. But she's about as bubbly as day-old cola.

Yesterday was a difficult match for Dementieva. She blew match point before losing a tiebreaker in the first set. TV commentators continually mentioned her looking at her coach in the seats. So, what was that all about?

"Just looking for support," she said.

RETICENCE

Asked if she needed support, she went to the backhand again: "I think everyone does."

Perhaps it is that reticence that explains why the most succesful player in Russian Federation Cup history, a two-time Olympic medallist and the fourth-ranked player in the world has not escaped the shadow of Sharapova.

On the court, not much seperates the two. Sharapova has career earnings of $12,458,659 US. Dementieva will surpass $12 million at this tournament. Sharapova has 19 singles titles, Dementieva is chasing her 14th here.

But Sharapova's public profile extends beyond tennis. She is on photo spreads in Sports Illustrated, has been Yahoo's most-searched athlete and in 2008 was the world's highest-paid female athlete, earning $26 million -- most of it from endorsements. In a poll run by Britain's FHM magazine, she was voted the seventh most eligible bachelorette based on both "wealth and looks."

It's enough to give someone an inferiority complex. But, not Dementieva.

"No. I don''t feel this way, no," she said. "Look, I got two Olympic medals. That was the biggest goal of my career so I feel very satisfied."

If Sharapova is the showhorse of the WTA tour, Dementieva is its darkhorse. If all the buzz surrounding Sharapova and the world's most famous injured shoulder irritate her, Dementieva doesn't show it.

"Well, first of all, I don't read magazines," Dementieva said, unleashing that backhand. "There is nothing between us."

This is not entirely true. There is competition. It is what all athletes at this level feed off. After a while, the money becomes just numbers.

"I guess, there is a competition between all of us," Dementieva allows, when asked about the proliferation of Russians on tour. "That's an inspiration for us to work harder to be the best."

Yesterday, Dementieva was best. She broke Stosur in the seventh game of the third set. When Stosur's final shot went long to end the match, Dementieva knelt to the ground and raised her arms. A small afternoon crowd applauded. Politely.

Then, it was Sharapova time. A full house. Prime time. That buzz, the lights, cameras and action. Dementieva? All she does is shut up and win.

BILL.LANKHOF@SUNMEDIA.CA


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