Every silver lining has a cloud for Dementieva

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The Independent Online

On another sunny day at the Australian Open for Russia's women, not to mention that nation's flourishing male, Nikolay Davydenko, it was somehow inevitable that a cloud was not far away from the head of Elena Dementieva. As Anastasia Myskina enjoyed a walkover into the fourth round, Dementieva, who lost in the finals of both the French and US Opens last year, was given an almighty fight before she joined Myskina and five others from her country in the last 16.

On another sunny day at the Australian Open for Russia's women, not to mention that nation's flourishing male, Nikolay Davydenko, it was somehow inevitable that a cloud was not far away from the head of Elena Dementieva. As Anastasia Myskina enjoyed a walkover into the fourth round, Dementieva, who lost in the finals of both the French and US Opens last year, was given an almighty fight before she joined Myskina and five others from her country in the last 16.

Slovakia's Daniela Hantuchova, who once dwelt at five in the world rankings, rediscovered some of that old form and zest to extend Dementieva for two hours 43 minutes before the sixth seed staggered through 7-5 5-7 6-4. Even then, it was a victory which came courtesy of Hantuchova's whopping 78 unforced errors. "I was playing very bad," admitted Dementieva. "I was very defensive, but I still did it."

The third-seeded Myskina's strolling progress came at the expense of the American, Lisa Raymond, who pulled out because of a strained stomach muscle incurred during a doubles match on Friday. "I'm happy that I'm in the next round, but I'm not really happy," Myskina revealed. "I like to play." Now Myskina, holder of the French title, will face someone from that country, Nathalie Dechy, a 6-3 6-3 winner over Italy's Francesca Schiavone, for a place in the quarter-finals.

A quarter-final between the Americans giants, Lindsay Davenport and Venus Williams, moved closer as both clocked up routine wins. Davenport, the 28-year-old world No 1, had to dip into her reservoirs of experience to see off the robust challenge of the Czech Nicole Vaidisova, aged only 15 and appearing in just her second Grand Slam, 6-4 6-2, while Williams saw off the Israeli, Anna Smashnova, 6-3 6-0 in exactly an hour.

Davenport, seeking to add a second Australian title to the one she collected five years back, praised Vaidisova for her lack of fear. She might have added lack of respect, too, since, according to the American "Nicole came out swinging from the start." In her present ethereal state, however, it will need more than that to trouble Davenport, whose plans to retire at the end of last season were put on hold following a rousing revival of form in the second half of 2004. "The turn of events in the last six months were a bigger shock to me than anyone else," said Davenport. "I was fully ready to see the twilight of my career, but something changed last summer and I started playing at a very high level. Tennis started becoming really exciting again and I felt like I really had a chance to do some great things.

"Midway through last year I wouldn't even have thought I would be here in Australia, never mind as No 1 seed and playing good tennis again." For the first time in a long time, Australia have a representative and a hope in the women's event. Alicia Molik, who has shot up the rankings in recent months and is seeded 10th, equalled her best showing at a Grand Slam by beating the unseeded Russian Tatiana Panova 6-3 6-2 to set up a fourth-round contest with Venus Williams.

Hoping to become the first Australian woman to win her home title since Chris O'Neil in 1978, Molik, who won the Sydney title and is unbeaten this year, blitzed Panova with 11 aces and, looking forward to the Venus match, said, "Bring it on", despite having lost her previous three matches with Venus.

The older of the Williams sisters, who is searching for her first Grand Slam title since the US Open in 2001, started by dropping her first service game to Smashnova but after breaking back in the fourth game ran away with the match, the only blot being a total of 26 unforced errors. "For me, it's all about consistency and errors," she conceded. "Even if I make a lot of errors, usually I'm winning the match." She acknowledges, though, that meeting an Australian on home ground will be a test en route to that Davenport match-up. "This will be a huge match for Alicia in Australia. But I've played a lot of huge matches in my life and I couldn't class this as the largest."

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