Sharapova and Dementieva showdown

STEVE SIMMONS, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 1:07 PM ET

For the first time in history, a tall, attractive, blonde, Russian woman will be crowned champion of the Rogers Cup today. We just don't know which one.

Choosing between Maria Sharapova and Elena Dementieva -- as athletes, as tennis players, please, we do have manners here -- is like choosing between chocolate and vanilla. They're both just fine. You can't lose. Both are great ice creams and it depends on the mood, the day, the emotion of the moment. And we saw some of that and all of that in two very different semifinal matches at the Rogers Cup yesterday.

Sharapova and Dementieva will play for the championship of the Canadian Open, in a matchup of countrywomen whose careers before this week seemed headed in completely different directions.

It isn't necessarily the final anybody wanted. The contrast of Serena Williams and Sharpanova would have been the people's choice. But as tennis finals go, this is acceptable.

For Dementieva, the girl who used to play without much of a serve, the big victory came yesterday, beating Williams. 7-6 (2), 6-1.

For Sharapova, still trying to find her game after shoulder surgery a year ago, she became the late night queen of the Rogers Cup ball. On Friday night, she played what many thought was the match of the tournament in advancing to last night's semi. Only a few people were around when it concluded after 1 a.m.

Last night, with winds blowing and the temperatures feeling like anything but summer, Sharapova looked strong early, very beatable in the middle set, then bounced back to defeat fellow Russian, Alisa Kleybanova in three sets, 6-2, 4-6, 6-4.

What was back, more than anything with Sharapova, was her old fighting spirit. While her looks may have made her famous, it didn't win her Wimbledon or the Australian open. Her dogged on-court approach did that and sometimes that part of her arsenal has been underplayed. And she needed to be every bit the bulldog last night to get past the 20-year-old Kleybanova.

Sharapova was dominant early on, lost her way in losing the second set, got behind 3-1 early in the third set, then grunted and ground-stroked her way back to reach the final.

Today is important for both women in many ways.

Sharapova hasn't won a tournament in more than a year. In fact, in her comeback to date after shoulder surgery, she hasn't been close. But she has dominated Dementieva in head to head matches, including beating her 6-1, 6-1 the only time they've met in a final. Sharapova has an 8-2 won loss record against Dementieva in career appearances.

That could well change today. Dementieva has been on her game on all week long and will be the more rested.

STEVE.SIMMONS@SUNMEDIA.CA


Photos