October 29, 2010

Goodbye, Elena

I know I'm not the only one who's sad that Elena Dementieva is retiring.

While I might have been a little late on the news, the twitterverse virtually exploded around noon today, when the current world #9 announced she'd just played her last professional match at the WTA Championships' against another veteran Francesca Schiavone. For a player casual tennis fans might never have heard of -- a former co-worker used to call her "Dementia" -- suddenly the Russian star was a trending topic, a real talk of the town. Of the globe, really.

Long my favorite player on the women's Tour, in recent years Dementieva has become known as the best athlete without a Grand Slam title -- she made the finals in Roland Garros and New York in 2004 and the semis of all the Majors another six seven times. But that's not to say she hasn't accomplished much in her twelve-plus year career. She cracked the top twenty in 2000 after a trip to the final four at the U.S. Open and has been a staple in the top ten for the better part of the decade. An instrumental part of the Russian Fed Cup team, she became the most consistent force from a country that has only emerged on the tennis scene in the last ten years. Though she counts Olympic gold in Beijing as the biggest accomplishment among her sixteen titles, she's had some unbelievably memorable matches -- I still count that '09 semi against Serena Williams as the savior of women's tennis -- that netted her nothing but a few minutes of coverage on Sports Center.

Yet Dementieva always showed up on court ready to give 150% -- win or lose, she put up a fight in every match. And it was so often a fight. With one of the weakest serves on the Tour, Elena developed one of the best return games out there and could break the toughest opponents several times in a match just to stay on serve. Despite that apparent weakness, over her career she racked up an impressive 575-271 record and notched big wins over some of the winningest champions around. And she certainly didn't allow herself to float off into oblivion before leaving the game -- having won two titles and made two more finals this year, she qualified for the year-end WTA championships for the eighth consecutive time.

And while she may have ruffled a few feathers here and there, the friends she made on Tour far outnumbered the foes. The outpouring of sentiment, from journalists, fans, seasoned vets and up-and-comers alike, shows just what a class act Elena Dementieva really is.

And while I know she will be sorely missed on Tour, I have no doubt that we're all better because of her.

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