Dementieva batters Hingis at Pan Pacific

by James Mulligan

Russia’s Elena Dementieva ended Martina Hingis’ bid for a first singles title in her comeback with a crushing 6-2, 6-0 win in the Pan Pacific Open on Sunday.

News photoElena Dementieva celebrates her victory over Martina Hingis
in the Pan Pacific Open final at Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium.

The powerfully built Dementieva’s punishing serves and two-handed backhands had her opponent scampering around the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium court in similar fashion to how Hingis controlled her semifinal win over Maria Sharapova.

Hingis’ serve lacked the conviction and power evident in the Sharapova victory, and the No. 2 seed Dementieva easily broke her three times in the first set.

Things got worse in the second set as a bemused-looking Hingis could only watch as a string of winners were fired past the static Swiss star.

The match-point winner was another rocket from the racket of the world No. 9, who secured her first Tier 1 WTA Tour singles title in little under an hour.

For now Hingis, who was a wild card entry into the tournament, is just happy to be back playing competitively after the heartbreak of her premature retirement in 2002.

“I’ve exceeded my own expectations and am happy to be playing good tennis once again,” Hingis said. “I’ve got a couple of things I have to work on, and I’ll go where this takes me.”

“I’ve been playing well for the last five or six weeks,” she said.

Hingis’ march to the final saw her beat No. 3 seed Natalie Dechy, and Russians Maria Kirilenko and top seed Sharapova, going some way to dispell doubts she wouldn’t be able to mix it with the power hitters of the women’s game.

Then she came up against another Russian in Dementieva.

“I guess I just faced one Russian too many,” Hingis joked.

One who is a big fan of the 25-year-old.

“She’s always been my favorite player — and after this match I like her even more.” a smiling Dementieva said of Hingis.

“I was trying to play aggressively. I didn’t feel any pressure before the match and felt I had nothing to lose.

“I’ve never had a 6-0 in the final, only against me,” Dementieva said.

“But it was a very good game and the score doesn’t tell the whole story,” she said.

The Russian was just being nice.

Dementieva was superior in all areas of the game, punching out passes either side of Hingis, but also producing a number of delicate lobs when Hingis was drawn to the net — alien territory for her in this tournament.

“I love to do passing shots,” Dementieva said. “When she started to come to the net I could see she didn’t like my groundstrokes and was trying to change the pace. I was able to use those lobs effectively,” Dementieva said.

Hingis’ showing in Tokyo means her ranking will jump from 117th to just outside the top 50.

Dementieva will move up one position and the 24-year-old picked up 23.3 million yen ($196,900) for winning her fifth career singles title.

Hingis won this event in 1997, ’99, 2000 and ’02 and has now been runnerup three times.

She retired the year of the final Tokyo triumph because of a chronic ankle injury.

She made her comeback at the start of this year, reaching the last four in her comeback tournament and getting to the quarterfinals of the Australian Open before winning the mixed doubles there with India’s Mahesh Bhupati.

Her return really gathered pace, though, after she destroyed world No. 4 and defending champion Sharapova 6-3, 6-1 in Saturday’s semifinal.

Hingis aims to play in Dubai later in February and next month in Doha, but is still taking tentative steps on her comeback.

“I just want to pace myself and see how my body copes with it,” Hingis said.

In the doubles final, No. 2 seeds Lisa Raymond of the United States and Australia’s Samantha Stosur beat top seeds Cara Black of Zimbabwe and Australia’s Rennae Stubbs 6-2, 6-1.