Serena on verge of comeback title victory

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The Independent Online

A horse named Wimbledon is fancied to consolidate his status as favourite to win the Kentucky Derby when he runs in the Santa Anita Derby today. At roughly the same time, Serena Williams will attempt to complete a remarkable comeback with a victory in her first tournament since her Wimbledon triumph eight months ago.

Williams, the top seed, is probably the stronger favourite as she prepares to play Elena Dementieva, of Russia, in the women's singles final at the Nasdaq-100 Open here. That is not only because Williams defeated Dementieva, 6-2, 6-2, in the fourth round at Wimbledon last year, their only previous meeting, but also because the Russian's serve tends to wait to be broken.

In her five matches en route to the final - including a victory in three sets against Venus Williams in the quarter-finals - Dementieva hit three aces and racked up 48 double-faults.

The 22-year-old from Moscow's philosophy is simple. "If you want to be a champion," she said after beating Venus, "it's not all about your serve. You have to win no matter what." It may encourage Dementieva that Serena, the younger, more powerful Williams, also had problems with her serve during her semi-final against Eleni Daniilidou before defeating the Greek in straight sets. Daniilidou broke Williams three times, including the games when she served for the first set and the match.

On the other hand, Dementieva's philosophy applies equally to Williams. "Maybe I got a little too comfortable [in those games]," the defending champion said. "You can never get comfortable. You've got to keep motivated. I think I let myself down. I was just being lazy out there. I said to myself, 'OK, Serena, this is outrageous.' I'm glad it happened, because now I know not to do it any more."

Williams did not stay angry with herself for long, reasoning that there were bound to be a few glitches in her game, given that she was virtually playing from memory after recovering from knee surgery.

"Today I digressed a little bit," she said. "I didn't play well. My first server percentage was a bit low, but considering the amount of time I spent off, I didn't really work too much on my serve. I worked hard, but not as much as I wanted. So I'm pretty impressed."

Having said at the outset that she was not going to put pressure on herself by expecting too much, Williams is delighted with her progress. "I think as far as I got right now is a major confidence boost regardless to what happens. Physically, it's a great boost; mentally, it's awesome to be in the final here my first time back since Wimbledon.

"I really am proud of myself, because it's hard to come back. It's nerve-wracking. I kept saying, 'OK, I'm not ready,' and I wanted to make sure when I came back that I would be able to do well. So I'm glad that I was able to wait." Dementieva, who has three Women's Tennis Association Tour singles titles to her name and is being coached this season by Olga Morozova, a finalist at Wimbledon and the French Open in 1974, was reminded that not many players have beaten both Williams sisters in the same tournament.

"I think it's a great experience to play against both of them in the same week," she said, "to feel the difference between them. I'm just very excited to be in the final and to play against Serena. It looks like she's in good shape. I think she has the best serve on the Tour. But I have nothing to lose." The tip for the day is a Wimbledon-Williams double, though not necessarily at a canter.