Myskina sweeps Capriati aside as Russians reign

Boris Yeltsin is probably about to catch the first available flight to Paris to make his presence felt on another historic occasion for Russian tennis, the coronation here tomorrow of his nation's first Grand Slam women's singles champion.

Boris Yeltsin is probably about to catch the first available flight to Paris to make his presence felt on another historic occasion for Russian tennis, the coronation here tomorrow of his nation's first Grand Slam women's singles champion.

Having leaped from his seat and grabbed the Davis Cup after his compatriot Mikhail Youzhny secured a dramatic first Russian triumph in the men's team competition at the Palais Omnisports de Bercy in 2002, Yeltsin will find it hard to resist a certain victory when Anastasia Myskina and Elena Dementieva duel for the French Open title.

The rest of us will simply hope that the climax of the women's singles tournament produces more quality than we have seen during the past two weeks.

While acknowledging the maladies of the major players - the wrist injury that prevented Kim Clijsters from competing, the debilitating glandular condition that Justine Henin-Hardenne tried to shrug off too soon, the various aches and pains of the Williams sisters that restricted their preparation - the women have not advanced their claims for equal pay.

The biggest disappointment in yesterday's semi-finals was Jennifer Capriati, who was swept aside by Myskina, 6-2, 6-2, after 61 minutes. But the glaring example of the difference in intensity between the women's and men's singles was provided by Paola Suarez. The Argentinian 14th-seed did not drop a set in five matches in a total of six hours, 20 minutes en route to the semi-finals. That was 13 minutes less than the record for one match set by the Frenchmen Fabrice Santoro and Arnaud Clement in the first round of the men's singles.

One of the arguments against pay-parity for the women at the Grand Slams is that they compete in best-of-three sets matches, whereas the men battle through the best-of-five. Here, the women have lacked inspiration as well as perspiration.

The 27-year-old Suarez, playing in her first Grand Slam singles semi-final, was defeated by Dementieva, 6-0, 7-5, after 83 minutes. A one-sided opening set was followed by seven breaks of serve in the second set, Suarez double-faulting on match point. "I think both of us were nervous," Suarez said.

Capriati, who thrilled the crowd by winning the title here in 2001 - her year of redemption after a troubled early career - had won five of her six previous matches against Myskina, but yesterday the 22-year-old Russian was in control from the start.

The players reached the last four by eliminating the Williams sisters - Capriati beating Serena in three sets, Myskina dispatching Venus in two. Capriati, in spite of her fighting spirit and considerable experience of major championships, was unable to raise her game when the trophy was in sight.

"I was just flat today," the American seventh seed said. "Maybe there was too much excitement [about the match with Serena]. Maybe there was too much hype for that match. Everyone was talking about it too much, and it was only the quarter-finals. I couldn't focus on the next one."

Myskina, the sixth seed, seemed to gain strength from vanquishing Venus. "Jennifer was not playing her best today," she agreed. "She was making a lot of unforced errors, and I think I played smart. I wasn't rushing, and I was able to move her around a lot."

Court Philippe Chatrier, which hosted the all-Belgian final between Henin and Clijsters last year, will belong to Moscow tomorrow.

"I have known Elena since we were six or seven," Myskina said. "We grew up together. We used to practise with the same coach, Marat Safin's mother. We played team tennis together. We did everything together. And we are pretty good friends." She paused and smiled before adding: "I hope we are still friends."

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