DOHA // Elena Dementieva braced herself for another humbling experience when her name came out alongside that of defending champion Venus Williams in the draw for the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour Championships. The well-travelled Russian may have an Olympic gold medal as her prize possession to convince the tennis world that she is up there with the best of her profession but whenever it came to proving it against Venus she tended to be found wanting.
Five successive defeats to the powerful American became six in the most humiliating of fashions at Stanford in July when Dementieva managed to take just a single game from the marauding Williams and she admitted to "not liking that match". From that "miserable day" she had been "really looking forward" to having another shot at Venus, and when it came her way in Doha she rose to the occasion splendidly to recover from an uncertain start and record a tremendous 3-6, 7-6 (8-6), 6-2 victory.
"This time I was trying to play a little different because I think she likes the way I play," said Dementieva who looked on the way to a familiar reverse as she trailed by a set and a break to the five-times Wimbledon champion. "Venus just seems very comfortable playing me from the baseline so I knew that if I was going to beat her for the first time in such a long time [more than five years] I had mix it up more and keep her on the move. It feels like it's worked."
Dementieva, 28, who now needs to defeat Serena Williams or Svetlana Kuznetsova in the next two days to secure a place in Saturday's quarter-finals, knew that her fate against Venus depended on her producing a solid performance in the second set-tie break. She did so, until holding three set points, and then almost threw away her big chance by squandering all of them before gratefully accepting a fourth to earn a deciding set which she dominated against a champion whose unforced error count reached a shameful 52.
Dementieva herself committed 37 errors and the serve which in the early part of her career was a massive handicap to her otherwise solid all-court game was a mixture of good and bad as her 15 double faults were accompanied by a successive of outright winners. Dementieva's consistently high world ranking has enabled her to attend the prestigious end-of-season play-offs in nine of the last 10 years but until last year when she lost to compatriot Vera Zvonareva in the semi-finals she had failed to progress past the group stage.
A former Dubai champion, she relishes the chance to add another Middle East title to her collection of 14 on her travels. "Our group is very tough," she reflected, "so it is a big challenge for all of us." Dementieva added: "It would be nice to get to the semis at the expense of some of the eight best players in the world." With her match against Serena shaping up to be the group decider, Dementieva looked back with mixed feelings at the equally high profile encounter she had with the world No 2 at Wimbledon in July where she held match point in an epic battle. "That was probably one of the best matches of my career, even though I lost it," she said. "Hopefully the experience of that is going to help me here."