Elena Dementieva Bids Tennis Farewell
October 29 2010 -- Let's begin at the end. It was the last day of round-robin play at the 2010 WTA Championships. And, it was the last day on tour for Elena Dementieva, as she stunned fans worldwide by announcing her retirement from tennis.
Commentators calling the match for Eurosport told viewers to hang on, rumors were afloat that Elena was about to call it a career, directly following her loss to Francesca Schiavone.
As soon as all the other players in attendance for the tournament paraded out and lined up along the net, all skepticism was dashed. The Russian that won an Olympic Gold Medal plus 16 tour titles, but never captured a major title, really was on the verge of a final farewell.
Dementieva's mother, Vera, stood shoulder to shoulder with her daughter's contemporaries as she, "tried for a little speech."
Dementieva kept her tone steady, holding back what looked like a puddle of tears in her eyes. She thanked Stacey McAllister CEO of the WTA Tour, who was on hand, and the entire Tour staff. She thanked her agents and all the people around the world that had supported her over her 12-year career.
Elena praised her mother most, though. "She is the one who inspired and encouraged me." At that point there wasn't a dry eye in the stadium at the Khalifa International Tennis Complex.
Dementieva decided to retire at the beginning of the 2010 season. The uber-fit Russian turned pro in 1998. She had been ranked in the top ten for six years. This was her 10th appearance at the year-ending tournament. Her career earnings, according the WTA website, were over $14 million.
"I was really touched my friends came by for the announcement. I was surprised to see them... that they knew about my secret. But right now I'm very sad. It really hurts."
Why she wanted to retire, now, was a question on everyone's mind.
"I never wanted my ranking to drop," Dementieva began. "Tennis has always been a big part of my life and always will be. I wanted to leave while I had a passion for it."
She did allude to an age-old dilemma women face, at that certain time in their lives.
"If I would be a man I would never stop playing. But, in the age of 29 I have to think about something else. I think I'm ready for the big change in my life."
This big change probably has lots to do with boyfriend, cute boyfriend, Maxim Afinogenov, a pro hockey player with the Atlanta Thrashers.
"I think he's the only one happy about my decision," Dementieva said, smiling. They plan to start a family. "Yeah, I hope so."
Regrettably, every time her name is mentioned in the future it probably will be tied to the fact she never won a Grand Slam. That's an unfortunate legacy, but an accurate one. In 2004 she played in two major finals: The French Open and the U. S. Open, both times losing to a fellow Russian.
At Roland Garros this spring, she retired in the quarterfinals against Francesca Schiavone with a torn calf muscle and had to, then, miss what has now turned out to be her last Wimbledon Championships.
The French Open was the one major she had hoped to win. Her disappointment of having to retire against the eventual French Open Champion Schiavone was palpable that sunny afternoon in Paris. And that Dementieva lost to her today probably held special significance, too.
"I never had so many injuries in my career," she said at her Doha press conference. "I was so close. But that injury probably happened in the worst moment of my entire career."
In her own assessment, Dementieva's greatest achievement came in 2004 at the Beijing Olympics when she won a gold medal in singles competition.
"It was the happiest moment of my life," she said.
Immediately following the close of the games, she flew home to Moscow and gave the medal to her mother. "I owe everything to her."
Her fitness, athleticism, and commitment to tennis were enviable. She could run down anything, but struggled for years with her service motion almost to her own embarrassment, and certainly to the embarrassment of fans.
The ball swerved up and off to the left like clockwork. She had to chase the ball and spin it wide about ninety percent of the time. Why her opponents couldn't just crack a blistering return was beyond reason to anyone watching, but most women she faced didn't take advantage of the awkward serve and then became increasingly frustrated because they couldn't whack it and earn free points.
Commentators had choice words for the tall blonde's serve, too, especially during major quarterfinals, which she played in or beyond at least ten times. Mary Carillo yelled out that Dementieva should hire Richard Krajicek, the Netherlands most famous tennis star and holder of one Wimbledon title, as she sat in the booth alongside her buddy John McEnroe.
"She needs to look at that serve on video," Tracy Austin said while calling a U. S. Open match between Dementieva and Jennifer Capriati.
McEnroe piped up, adding, "No... not that serve. She'll lose more confidence."
Everyone had an answer. But once the ball was in play, Elena's ground game dominated. Her fierce and predominantly flat groundstrokes dealt mighty blows to opponents still recovering from the debacle of a serve tossed their way.
Dementieva did work with Krajicek for a short time. But, she developed her own serve alongside her mother, her rock. It's not the smoothest motion going, but it worked for Elena.
Off the court, Dementieva was gracious and objective. She answered questions for the press directly and with little detail or much emotion. She said time after time that she loved to compete, that that was her passion and tennis was her game.
"I really want to keep myself busy because it's going to be hard watching all the other girls playing," she admitted. "I started studies last year at one of the best universities in Moscow, so I obviously now have more time for that."
Elena is hopeful for the future of the women's tennis. She believes that Caroline Wozniacki's ascension to the #1 spot at the young age of 20 is a superlative achievement; one she should be proud of.
"I think we're going to see some new young players coming up on tour and playing in the top level. It's a time for change. There are a lot of 27, 29, 30 [year old] players that will retire in a year or two. For sure we going to see some new faces."
Sadly, the new talent comes in at the expense of losing Elena Dementieva. We wish her well. She will be missed.