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Of pressure, success and dreams come true

Moscow: Elena Dementieva burst on to the tennis scene as an unknown 18-year-old almost three years ago.

In September 2000, she became the first Russian woman to reach the US Open semi-finals and just a couple of weeks later won an Olympic silver medal, losing to Venus Williams in the Sydney final.

Soon afterwards, Dementieva moved into the world top 10, replacing Anna Kournikova as Russia’s number one.

Many tennis experts thought it was just a matter of time before Dementieva would win her first major title. Instead, there followed two-and-a-half years of struggle, frustration, injuries and self-doubt before the breakthrough finally came last month when she won her first WTA title at Amelia Island.

“These have been very difficult years,” Dementieva said. “I had a lot of various injuries but I think my problems were more mental than physical.”

Dementieva, coached by her mother Vera since childhood, said she had even thought of hiring a psychologist to help her regain her self-confidence.

“I was seriously thinking about it but, me and my mother, we just couldn’t find a psychologist who would also be a good expert in tennis,” she said. “So we decided to leave everything as it is and just continue to work hard.”

The 21-year-old Russian also contemplated changing coaches.

“Of course when you’re not playing as well as you’re capable of, you try to take a different approach,” she said.

“But in the end we decided to continue our relationship because my mother knows me and my game better than anyone else.”

Dementieva did a lot of soul-searching to find a way to revive her flagging game.

“Looking back, I think that sudden success made my life in the next couple of years a lot more difficult,” she said.

“It all happened too quickly. I was just 18, I had no fear of anyone and just played to my ability, maybe even over my head sometimes,” she added.

“I quickly reached the top 10 but honestly I didn’t really understand what was going on. I thought the success and winning would just continue and take care of itself.”

Dementieva also found that pressure from the media and fans was hard to cope with.

“People in Russia were expecting me to win, to be the next big Russian hero, but I didn’t know how to handle all that public pressure all of a sudden,” she said.

As she struggled, Dementieva was gradually overshadowed by the next generation of Russian players. Anastasia Myskina, Elena Bovina, Dinara Safina, Vera Zvonareva and Svetlana Kuznetsova have all won at least one WTA title in the past year but Dementieva had to wait until last month in Florida for her first victory.

“It was amazing, like a dream come true,” Dementieva said of her maiden title. “It was also a big psychological lift for me. It has given me a lot of confidence.”

Dementieva was particularly pleased with her route to the title. She beat three top-10 opponents, including Justine Henin-Hardenne, one of the hottest players on the tour, and former world No.1 Lindsay Davenport to clinch the $93,000 prize.

“Until then I had never beaten Justine before and although I won a couple of matches against Lindsay before, beating her in the final of a big tournament meant a lot to me,” she said.

Asked about her goals for the future, Dementieva hesitated.

“Of course, I would like to keep consistency up there and move back into the top 10,” she said. “As far as winning more titles, I don’t want to make any predictions. After what I have been through the last couple of years, it has taught me to take one step at a time and not look too far ahead.”

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