-- After her eighth double fault in a French Open championship that was rapidly slipping away, Elena Dementieva screamed in frustration, though few in the stands at Roland Garros understood the Russian she was spewing in obvious disgust.
"I said, 'I hate my serve,' which is true," Dementieva translated for a roomful of reporters intent on dissecting one of the most lopsided finals in Grand Slam history. And then she wept.
Dementieva had waited for this moment all her life, and it lasted just 58 minutes. That's how long it took Anastasia Myskina, her childhood rival and countrywoman, to secure the 6-1, 6-2 victory and claim the 2004 French Open, the first Grand Slam title for any Russian women's tennis player.
Dementieva is the bigger of the two 22-year-olds -- both of whom trained under the same coach at Moscow's Spartak Club -- with powerful legs, a gymnast's grace and a Howitzer-like forehand. Myskina is three inches shorter with a jackrabbit's speed and a gift for manipulating tempo and pace. But the anatomy of the ragged final played between them Saturday had little to do with physique or skill and far more to do with the demons of the mind.
Myskina was so stressed by the six victories that led to her first Grand Slam final that she broke down in tears in the locker room before stepping onto the court. She went to the trainer for help and was given a crash course in taking deep breaths to calm her nerves.
For Dementieva, also playing in her first Grand Slam final, the stress took hold early in the match. She found herself holding her breath, unable to exhale. She was rushing her game as the points piled up against her. Her rhythm was shot, and her serve -- long the weakest facet of her game -- fell to pieces.
Dementieva lost her first four serves, in fact, and committed 10 double faults, including three in the seventh game of the second set as she tried to fight back from 1-6, 2-4.
Most in the stands at Philippe-Chatrier Court seemed to feel her quiet agony. And they sat silent as Dementieva went to the service line, tossed the ball oddly low and wide of her torso and smacked it nearly side-arm with her racket face only to hear it thump into the net. The first set whisked past in 27 minutes. As the second set hurtled past, some fans grew weary of Dementieva's futility and whistled her double faults. It was as if they had lost patience with such a glaring weakness in an athlete who looked so powerful, whacking forehands like a machine with her hair pulled back in a severe braid and her features obscured by a visor.
But speaking to reporters afterward, Dementieva evoked empathy as she tried to explain her poor performance and the serve she couldn't control. She was no longer the professional athlete who couldn't get a basic skill right. With her visor off and long, blond hair draping her shoulders, she seemed more like a teenager who, try as she might, couldn't learn to parallel park.
"I don't know how to serve," she finally conceded, as her eyes welled with tears. Asked by the moderator if she wanted to come back and answer questions later, Dementieva declined and kept fielding questions.
The all-Russian final was an unlikely pairing, and it capped an uninspiring two weeks for women's tennis at the French Open.
The world's No. 1 player, Justine Henin-Hardenne, bowed out in the second round, still ailing from a mysterious virus. Her Belgian rival, Kim Clijsters, skipped the tournament because of a wrist injury. The Williams sisters, Serena and Venus, injected life into the proceedings but fell out prematurely with questionable form and focus. Serena was beaten by a fired-up Jennifer Capriati, who two days later barely mustered a fight in her semifinal against Myskina.
But the lesson of Saturday's final has been learned in women's tennis before: Players who know each other's game too well -- whether sisters, Belgians or Russians -- don't necessarily bring out each other's best performance.
It was a strange match from beginning to end, oddly drained of joy.
Dementieva was never in contention and didn't force Myskina to do much other than keep the rein on her notoriously volatile temper. Together, the Russians committed far more unforced errors (50) than winners (23).
The ending was unsatisfying, as well, with Dementieva blasting a forehand service return on match point that Myskina thought tagged the baseline. An uneasy pause followed in which both players looked confused until the chair umpire signaled it was out, declaring, "Game, set and match."
And what should have been a glorious moment -- with Myskina holding the Suzanne Lenglen trophy, Dementieva by her side, as the Russian anthem played -- felt wistful instead.
"When you're on court, you don't really think against who you play; you just think how to win," Myskina said. "But after the match, it's hard to see how your friend [is] crying or how your friend [is] upset. It was really important match for both of us."