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Elena Dementieva announces her retirement; here's why she should be missed

October 29, 2010 |  2:21 pm


Just finished watching Tennis Channel coverage of the season-ending WTA Championships in Doha, and included was the tearful on-court gathering of players who honored Elena Dementieva, the 29-year-old Russian with wicked groundstrokes, an unreliable serve and the unfortunate tag for almost a decade of being the most talented player to have never won a Grand Slam-level title.

After her last match in Doha, a loss to Francesca Schiavone, Dementieva unexpectedly announced she was done with tennis.

And maybe that's true, that she will always be remembered at the best who never won the best.

Dementieva will be remembered for the time she had a match point against Serena Williams in the 2009 semifinals at Wimbledon. Serena came forward and pounded a backhand volley that clipped the net and landed in the open court, a winner. Afterward Dementieva regretted not being more brave herself on that point. "The only regret I have, maybe, I should have taken a little bit more risk on match point, I should have gone down the line."

Williams won that match 6-7 (4), 7-5, 8-6, one that is considered an all-time great match at the All England Club. Dementieva played in the French Open and U.S. Open finals in 2004, losing to Anastasia Myskina in France and Svetlana Kuznetsova in New York, two matches where Dementieva probably had the better game. Dementieva often listed her gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics as her most prized title. Along the way she upset Serena Williams in the quarterfinals, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3.

One moment above all, though, exemplified the personal decency that has made Dementieva a favorite of fans, fellow players and media.

After her loss in the finals to Kuznetsova in 2004, in the prime time night match in New York, Dementieva gave an emotional tribute in honor of the 330 people, mostly schoolchildren, who had been massacred in a Russian school in Beslan where political activists had held over 1,000 people hostage.

Dementieva's final against her fellow Russian had been played eight days later, and with her voice wavering, Dementieva said, "Stay together and battle terrorism."

Let's hope the class and heart Dementieva showed in saying those words means more to her than whether she won a Grand Slam title. Dementieva always had a thoughtful comment on tennis or anything else. She was naturally thin and seemed almost frail until she began hitting those clean, powerful forehands and backhands. Then you realized that Dementieva was strong and quick and graceful and a fighter.

-- Diane Pucin

 Photo: Elena Dementieva. Credit: European Press Agency.