Sun, Sep 11, 2005 - Page 24 News List

Pierce and Clijsters to meet in finals

SEMIFINALS Kim Clijsters, seeking her first Grand Slam title, blew five match points in the second set before overcoming No. 1 Maria Sharapova 6-2, 6-7 (4), 6-3

AP , NEW YORK

Mary Pierce of France celebrates a point against Elena Dementieva of Russia during their semifinal match at the US Open in Flushing Meadows, New York, Friday.

PHOTO: REUTERS

All Mary Pierce and Kim Clijsters needed was a little extra time to get to the US Open final.

Pierce took a controversial 12-minute injury timeout after losing the first set, then won 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 over last year's runner-up, Elena Dementieva, on Friday to earn a spot in her first US Open final.

Clijsters is seeking her first Grand Slam title.

"It was tough," Clijsters said. "I gave everything I had on those match points and she just came up with better shots. I said from the third set on, `Just go for it.' It worked."

Clijsters will be playing for the richest prize in Grand Slam history -- double the US$1.1 million winner's share, because she won the US Open series leading up to the tournament.

"I'm not really playing for the money," Clijsters said. "I just want to go out there and have fun. I really missed it so much last year."

Pierce, at 30 the oldest woman left at the Open, hurt her right leg during her quarterfinal victory over Amelie Mauresmo, but she decided against taping it before the match with Dementieva.

"I didn't want my opponent to know there was anything wrong with me," Pierce said.

She double-faulted three times in the first set. She repeatedly bounced on her toes, shook her calves and smacked her thighs.

"After I lost the first set, I was like, `OK, I need to get help because I can't play this way,'" said Pierce, a two-time Grand Slam winner who lost to Justine Henin-Hardenne in a lopsided French Open final. "I wasn't able to play my game. I wasn't into the match. I wasn't able to move."

According to the rules, a player is allowed one timeout per injury, and each timeout is not supposed to exceed six minutes -- three minutes for evaluation, three minutes for treatment. Because Pierce had two injuries, the thigh and back, she was allowed two timeouts.

She lay on her stomach while the trainer kneaded her back, and did a couple of half-push-ups to try to stretch it out. Then she had her right thigh wrapped with several layers of tape. While Dementieva went back onto the court to warm up, Pierce got back on the ground and the trainer worked some more on her back.

"I think it didn't affect my game. But do I think she had something? I don't think so," Dementieva said. "... I didn't think it was a fair play, but she could do it by the rules. And she did it. ... If that's the only way she can beat me, it's up to her."

But Pierce denied the break was gamesmanship.

"No. No, not at all," she said. "I'm 30 years old, I've been on the tour 17 years, I don't believe in that. I don't think that will make a difference. I believe at this level where we're playing, we're all very mentally strong.

"I had injuries that I needed to attend to to help me," she added. "I was hoping that would help, that I could play better, and it did."

Pierce was the sharper of the two in the remaining sets, directing the younger Russian with commanding groundstrokes from the baseline. She punctuated each shot by shaking her fists and tapping her chest above her heart.

Dementieva increasingly deteriorated throughout the match. With arguably the worst serve on the tour and having committed 62 double-faults coming into the match, Dementieva had six this time, including four in the last set. She committed 19 errors in the final set.

"Maybe I was a little bit angry in the second set, but then I know if I want to win this match, I have to be focused, not think about what she did," Dementieva said. "... I didn't take advantage of the first set, that I was playing so good. ... I just gave her a chance to play better in the second set, and she took the advantage of this."

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