It was hard for me to write this because I was never a fan of Elena Dementieva.
I always find reports of player retirements a bit like eulogies: full of praises, nostalgia and reminiscence. Come to think of it, retirement from sport is a bit like a reincarnation of sorts – the passing of one life as a tennis player to another, as a woman, man, wife, mother, as some other professional, or a different type of tennis professional, be it coach or commentator. But life as a professional tennis player comes to an end.
When you happen to be a fan of a particular player, the praises, nostalgia and memories come naturally. It’s putting your emotions down in words that’s the hard part. But when you’ve never been a fan of a particular player, you’re stuck in an odd situation where you might still not be a fan, but you’re nonetheless left with an Elena Dementieva-shaped hole in your tennis universe. If I come out singing praises, does that make me a hypocrite? If I hold on to my critical judgements, does that make me mean-spirited and small-minded?
Those are the kind of thoughts going through my mind as I type this. So I’m going to try and write this as honestly as I can.
I was never a fan of Elena Dementieva because, quite simply, she wasn’t my cuppa tea. I like my players with a little fire in their belly. The likes of Roger, Rafa, Serena, Venus, Maria are all fierce, independent individuals. What makes them that much more special than the rest is that they smell blood and see fear more keenly than anyone else, and they never hesitate to deliver the knockout blow when they get the chance on the big stage of a slam.
Elena Dementieva, despite having the seemingly complete package of talent and hard work, didn’t have that kind of killer in her.
She made the latter stages of slams frequently, but when push came to shove, Dementieva backed off. The match point she had against Serena during last year’s Wimbledon semifinal was probably the best illustration of that. Everything was on her side that day, including the serve, and when the opportunity for a knockout blow presented itself, Dementieva went cross court on match point. Hindsight would reveal going down the line to be the stroke of inspiration and dare she needed then and found wanting.
See? It’s easy for me to say this, because I was never a fan.
But despite all my misgivings about Dementieva throughout her career, it was only upon her retirement that I discovered how much deeper an impression she had left on me, without my knowing.
Needless to say, she was one talented player. Just how good was she? Look not to her notoriously unreliable serve. In some ways, Dementieva’s serve was the most obvious proof of just how good the rest of her game was. Despite what should’ve been a fatal flaw in her game, Dementieva made two slam finals, many more semifinals, and has beaten the best players of her generation during her 13 year career. She did so by making the biggest liability in her game as irrelevant as possible.
That’s not to say that the serve didn’t make things difficult for her, it’s to say that in a truly Darwinian evolutionary manner, Dementieva worked with the biggest weakness in her game and made the rest of her game dependable enough for her to be a constant fixture in the WTA Top 10.
That’s how much of a good player she was.
Another aspect of Elena Dementieva that has left me with a lasting impression was her personality. It’s no secret that I enjoy most of the “divas” in tennis – the Williamses, Maria Sharapova, Jelena Jankovic … I like them for the simple reason that they amuse me, and tennis is nothing if not entertainment.
Elena Dementieva wasn’t amusing. She wasn’t a Maria or even an Ana. As an incredibly beautiful woman, she was relatively uncommercialised. She attended less parties, had less sponsors and did less photo shoots than many other women on tour, far less than what she could’ve had if she pursued such a path. But she didn’t, and I don’t think it was the result of bad marketing. I think it was a principled stance by her against taking the easier, but less rewarding, path.
Because of this stance and because of the way she carried herself throughout her career, anyone who knew anything about tennis saw Dementieva as the consummate professional athlete, not a celebrity. I say this without passing a judgement on those who do commercialise their careers, for there is no single way, or “right way” of making a career for yourself in this situation. But in women’s tennis, Dementieva has always been a constant reference point against the ‘Tennis Diva’, a demonstration that beauty doesn’t have to be branded and sold for money, that professionalism and an unwavering work ethic can be the motivating principle of one’s career.
For that, what I could not give her in devotion, I give in respect.
Lastly, in retirement, Elena Dementieva reminded me of a different type of story line. What I mean is that there are movies with happy endings. There are movies with tragic ones. And then there are those that are just “middle of the road” and leave you with the Bittersweet Symphony stuck in your head on replay.
At some point during her career, half the tennis world began to wish that Dementieva would finally win the slam she seems to so deserve. It would’ve been a fairy tale ending, had she managed a win after trying so hard for so long and coming so close so many times.
But having achieved much in her career, Dementieva retired without ever winning a slam. She retired in a typical Dementieva fashion, without any warning, without a year of Safin-esque build up. She went relatively quietly, citing a reason many women know rather well: the inescapable fact of biology, also known as Wouldn’t-It-Be-Great-If-Men-Had-Uteri?
“If I was a man, I would never stop playing,” Dementieva said. “But at the age 29, I have to think about something else. I think I’m ready for a big change in my life.”
It wasn’t the fairy tale we had hoped for, but it certainly wasn’t tragic or regretful. It was the bittersweet symphony that’s life and sometimes, none of it fits into the neat equation of Talent + Hard Work = Success. Sometimes, you try and try and try and you never quite get the happy ending you deserve because it just is what it is.
Elena Dementieva, one of the finest players of her generation, never won a slam in her career. Doesn’t make it a bad story. Doesn’t make it an unsuccessful career. Doesn’t make it a life of regrets. I hazard a good guess that the glass is more than half full for Elena.
Unlike Clijsters, Henin or Hingis, she leaves this sport as Mauresmo did last year, with no sense of unfinished business. That’s partly the reason why to this day, I hold on to a small hope that Hingis might stage another come back. But in the case of Dementieva and Mauresmo? I know they won’t.
So I guess that’s goodbye then, Miss Dementieva. I wish you luck in your future endeavours, knowing that if you bring your diligence, talent and sensibility to whatever you choose to do in the future, you probably won’t need luck to succeed.
With the US Open about to commence, the New York Times ran a story titled “How Power has transformed women’s tennis” (clickey), accompanied by a slideshow and a series of videos filming the top women in ballet-inspired clothes, hitting in slow motion (clickey).
I realise I’m probably in the minority here – I didn’t like the feature. To me, it suffered from the same schizophrenia that any writing on women’s tennis in the mainstream media falls victim to these days – it laments the lack of iconic players on the WTA tour (Williams and Sharapova aside). It deplores monotony and highlights the inconsistency of the tour’s top players. It notes the growingly more prominent “missing generation” – my generation, utterly incapable of challenging Serena Williams.
And yet … despite its negativity towards women’s tennis, the piece tries to wow with the aesthetic appeal of ballet, piano music, and beautiful women in flowing, silky dresses, and ends with this conflicting statement:
People worrying about the game today will probably be the same ones, years from now, who boast about having seen Serena in her prime, along with Henin and Venus and Sharapova and Clijsters.
There’s nothing like it, they’ll say. Those were the days.
Make up your friggin mind.
And on the aesthetics – again, I think I’m in the minority when I say I’m not a big fan of the photo shoot: on the whole, there was too much hair and smoke, too little character or clarity. Besides, I fail to see anything remotedly balletic about the tennis of Vera, or Lena, or Vika or any of their other name-rhyming friends.
All this I say with one important exception – the photographs of Sam Stosur were stunning. It’s not so much that you hardly ever see the feminine side of her, so any attempt to put her in a dress inevitably wows.
No. It’s more than that.
These photos are a remarkably accurate reflection of Stosur’s character – a curious mix of power and vulnerability. Or perhaps even more accurately – power to mask vulnerability.
Trapped within her muscles and her sunnies, there’s a lot of tenderness and fear. The naturally aggressive, emotive mindset doesn’t come easily to her the way it does for – let’s say – Serena, and the simple routine of crawling out of her comfort zone each day, putting on a head to match her ironically powerful, attacking game is a challenge each of us witness Sam confront on a match-by-match basis.
Is it any wonder that she froze at Roland Garros?
Enough musings. Do you see what I see?
The rest of the photos: Lena, Vika, Vera and Kim (in that order), with a whole lotta hair.
- Gulbis v Murray. Nalbandian v Djokovic. Baggy v Berdy. RZod and ARod. I think I love you, ATP.
- One stat you should keep in mind as we head into Day 4 of Cincy: Roger Federer has never won more than 2 matches in Cincinnati in an even numbered year. Now he faces Kohlscreiber. Do your maths.
- Richard Gasquet is for no apparent reason STILL IN THE DRAW. Hope springs eternal. He’s up against Fish.
- If Ferrer v Davydenko sounds like the least appealing match of the day, then men’s tennis is in a very, very good place right now.
- FULL OOP
- At some point, someone has to make Kim Clijsters pay for her erratic play. SOMEONE. But will it be Kaia Kanepi?
- ARad v Kuzzy. Consistency v Flair. Your guess is as good as mine.
- Without making much of a wave since the Australian Open, Li Na has been amazingly consistent in 2010. She’s up against Azarenka for a place in the quarters.
- Regardless of the outcome of the match, there’s something that Francesca Schiavone has that Dinara Safina would very much like to have.
- Demmy, Woz, Pennetta, Zvonareva, all in action.
- FULL OOP
AusVotes 2010 preview:
Excuse the hijacking, it is my civic duty to show you this:
Much credit to GetUp for their work this election campaign. A voice of reason in Aus politics.
Without further ado, FRAZZLE AWAY!
EDIT// I HATE BEING RIGHT.
Federer v Murray – 3:30AM AEST
Clijsters v Sharapova – 5:00AM AEST
Why Murray and Clijsters will win, probably in straight sets:
- It’s a matter of form. They both came through their matches in straight sets. Both most comfortable on this surface. Murray in particular showed a lot of aggression in his quarterfinal and semifinal matches, beating quality opponents with ease.
- Fatigue – Both had the earlier day match with plenty of rest, both will face opponents in the night session who were taken to 3 sets before prevailing in over 2 hours.
- Pressure – Federer’s priority is the US Open, and as far as preparation goes, he’s gotten the most out of this week already. On the other hand, Murray is the only player in the top 5 without a title in 2010. He needs this more. The assumption being that need translates to want.
Reasons to rebut the presumption
- The rabbit – Murray can’t play much better than he has played this tournament. Roger Federer can, but he’ll need to pull a rabbit out of his hat – forget the brain cramps, the fatigue, serve well and play the kind of tennis he played for half a match against Berdych. At the end of the day, aggression comes more naturally to Federer than it does to Murray.
- Mentality – if anything, Clijsters has been just as messy as Sharapova this week, but I have a feeling that she may carry more of an aura for other players than Sharapova these days. Aura, as we’ve found out in the past, doesn’t really bother Maria. When it comes to mental strength, I still give Sharapova an edge.
- Pressure – pressure works in both ways. The fact that Fed has done better than expected this week, the fact that he knows what it feels like to win matches back to back against the top 10 again – taking this pressure off his mind might do just the opposite: loosen him up. (Though the narrative of today’s match prove the contrary.)
The fate awaiting Federbear, tomorrow (last minute clemency still on the cards).
Go Pinky. Go Maria. That is all.
- Venus in yet another clay court final. Aside from Justine Henin, she has more titles on clay than any other player on the WTA tour. No one saw that coming huh?
- Nestor/Zimonjic v Bryan Bryan: the Fedal equivalent of men’s doubles.
- … There’s some other match on too. It’s not important or anything. (OH MY GAWD OH MY GAWD OH MY GAWD OH MY GAWD)
Manolo Santana (from 13.30hrs)
1. ATP: Nestor/Zimonjic vs. Bryan/Bryan
2. Singles Final: Aravane Rezai vs. Venus Williams (NB 15.30hrs)
3. ATP: Federer vs. Nadal (NB 18.30hrs)
1. It happens every Masters – punters predict a Fedal showdown, before Rafa and/or Federer crash out early in the “upset” of the tournament. Waiting for Federer v Nadal is like waiting for Godot these days.
And why do we want Federer v Nadal anyway? After all, Rafa might be my second favourite player on the men’s tour, but when he plays Fed, all bets are off. Perfectly jolly fangirls turn into shrieking banshees during a Fedal match, and not in the most harmless way either.
And yet because no matter how many times we proclaim the end of the Fedal era to be a good thing for the sport, no matter how commentators insist that tennis isn’t all about Federer and Nadal (umm … there is also the WTA?), you’d be hard pressed to find a few actual spectators who bought tickets to the final hoping to see Ivan Ljubicic in action.
We all want a piece of that history, even if the thought of that history makes us sharpen knives in fear.
2. Laugh in the Face of Haterade, Edition 1 2010.
I don’t like to take swipes at other bloggers. It’s impolite and after all, to each his/her own right? But if I started a paragraph with that sentence, you bet I’m about to do exactly that.
Those are my five reasons why Federer can win in Miami, but there are more. And to take the contrarian viewpoint, there are several arguments that can be made against Federer. Among them: he doesn’t care about these events anymore; his only title in the last seven months came courtesy of a Davydenko choke; he has a tough draw and guys like Berdych, Murray, etc, will beat him in best-of-3; he’s still not 100% in playing form; he can’t handle the Miami wind.; and of course the popular fact that I have now pick him so…; etc. And those are all fair points, but I’m sticking with Rog here.
Source: the fine intelligentsia of tennis-x
It actually took me a minute to work out what the person was referring to. Oh-Of-course, Roger Federer only wins titles (major titles) these days because Nikolay Dayvdenko allows him to. Poor, poor Roger.
3. The Sony Ericsson WTA Tour Awards for 2009 were given out in Miami today. Congratulations to the recipients.
There were no real surprises, though I have no idea what the “Player Service” Award is all about.
- Player of the Year: Serena Williams
- Comeback Player of the Year: Kim Clijsters
- Doubles Team of the Year: Venus and Serena Williams
- Newcomer of the Year: Yanina Wickmayer
- Karen Krantzcke Sportsmanship Award: Kim Clijsters
- Player Service: Elena Dementieva
- Humanitarian: Liezel Huber*
* Lizel Huber’s charity – Liezel’s Cause – helps victims of Hurricane Katrina. (clickey)
I thought Venus looked great…
Until I saw the Ugg boots.
4. OH MY GOD YOU GUYS: SODDYBUMS. SMILEY. DIMPLES. DOLPHIN.
I could put that into an actual sentence, but it would require to much thinking.
Who’s cuter? Bobby Sod or Flipper?
Ferrer was there too. Next!
Gonzo and Belluci joined the fun. Oh happy, flippity days!
5. I dare say Rafael Nadal will probably give you permission to punch his teeth out now. His wisdom teeth that is. He revealed during his pre-tournament press conference that he’s suffering from inflammation to his wisdom teeth. It won’t affect his participation in the tournament, but he was in visible pain during the press conference.
The pain started two days ago and Rafa will receive treatment during his stay in Miami. I sympathise, I really do. I should be getting mine out soon, it’s making a move.
6. In Miami results, Bandy had a much easier time than expected against Lukasz Kubot winning 6-3, 6-2. I wish I could say the same about Reeshie, who blew a close match against Belgium pocket-rocket Oliver Rochus, 7-6 (2), 1-6, 6-4 for his second consecutive first round exit.
So much for having points to gain.
As I write this, Fed’s latest hitting partner and the star of NBTA – Filip Krajinovic has split sets with Jimmy Blake.
On the women’s side, Justine Henin has no troubles dispatching Jill Craybas, while Kimiko battled past a flubbering AChak 75 36 64.
7. Federer fans, don’t ever change.
Congratulations to Kim Clijsters and Andy Roddick. Miami Champs for 2010.
1. WTA tennis sans Williams usually involves top seeds falling like dominoes. The upset bug is highly contagious, and it spreads fast amongst self-doubters and mental midgets. Justine Henin is neither of those things. This wasn’t supposed to happen to her.
But it did, as she fell victim to Gisela Dulko and the Pink Curse, 62 16 64.
Didn’t see a single game of the match, but the serve and general overplaying were to blame for the travesty. Can’t say I’m surprised about either. The third set of the Australian Open could’ve gone Henin’s way had she decided not to hit the snot out of the ball on every service return.
When Justine Henin came back from her 18 month sabbatical, the key difference is the aggressive mindset with which she returned. Yet at times, Justine seems to be unable to find the balance between aggression and doing enough to win.
Is it a matter of tactic or execution? Where will she fall on that fine line between aggression and self-destruction, kamikaze-styled?
2. Justine was not the only person affected by the tennis wobbles. CWoz had her fair share of scares, going down 1-4 against Vania King in the third set before pulling out a victory, 5-7 6-2 6-4. Meanwhile, Stella McCartney continues to be a plague on the Adidas House with this awful design.
Masha Fierce was two points away from double-faulting out of tournament in the second round against Vera Dush, before she found some semblance of consistency to level the match at one set a piece. She eventually closed out the third set convincingly, 46 75 62. Good fight back, I just wish we had seen that first round at the Australian Open.
Olga Govortsova might’ve lost to Demmy in 3 sets, but she scored with her cute little K-Swiss gear. I’ve never liked a pink outfit more.
3. On the men’s side of things, it was a quiet day as Blake and Nalbandian, the only noteworthy names scheduled today, both came away with straight-set wins.
A Federbandian quarterfinal is still on the cards, folks. Save your frazzles and keep your fingers glued crossed that Roger – oh hai Squishy Pie – doesn’t fuck this up.
And I don’t know who thought it would be a good idea to put James Blake in wash-out pink, but stop it. Just … stop.
4. It happens so often: a player like Federer or Nadal loses in a slam to a major challenger and questions of “is this the end” are raised.
In the case of Rafa, these questions take a specific angle – can his body handle it? Is he capable of playing a full season without injury? Will his dominance ever only come in spurts, rather than eras?
Well … a cutie-patootie picture for y’all while you contemplate those question.
Unlike the media, Rafael Nadal doesn’t ask himself those questions. At least if he does, we’ll never know about it.
“My feeling was I ready to win,” Nadal said. “I was believing I can win the tournament there. I had the chance against Andy, had break in the first, break in the second, and I was playing at very good level. Both players played really well, and I feel like I was at the top the whole time.”
I don’t know about being “at the top the whole time”. To me, it sounded like a few years back, when Djoko lost to Rafa in straight sets at Roland Garros and rocked up at the press conference saying “I felt like I was in control“.
In a way, I get Rafa’s point. It’s easy to get carried away with all this doom and gloom. If there’s one thing I learnt from Fed’s year in 2009, it’s that form is only temporary, but class is forever. A few good tournaments could be all it takes for Rafa to rampage through the clay and grass seasons.
“I think my feeling the level is much better now,” he said. “If I am healthy, just play the tournaments that I have on the schedule, I have good chances.”
Yet despite his injuries, Rafa stated that he does not intend to cut back on his clay season schedule (down for Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Rome, Madrid and Roland Garros).
“The only thing what I did, what I changed two times, I didn’t play in Hamburg [now the week of Madrid]. But I really don’t want to change if it’s possible.”
Can’t say that I think it’s a good idea. But Rafa’s the best judge, I’m sure. As long as you’re not injured by August dude.
5. Alicia Molik and Elena Baltacha through to the third round with wins over seeded players. The latter became the first British woman to beat a top 10 player in 12 years. Nice things are happening to nice people at last, after a string of injuries and health issues.
6. It seems that Lady Jaja is no longer pissed at Roger. Pfft, that’s called ‘Girl World’ for ya.
I just turned 25, and I’ve been on the tour so many years and played so many matches, Our season is so long that even in our offseason, which is short, you are training and your body wears out. It’s not how old you are, but how many miles you have put on your body and how many hours you’ve been out there. Many days, you wake up and everything hurts. You feel slow and heavy. A couple of years ago, I never got tired, I could run around the court and travel all over the place, and now I’m really feeling it.
You have to find ways to stay motivated, and that’s why I admire Roger Federer, because he never gets injured or tired or lacks motivation. It’s amazing. People think you are at the top of the game and you can be there for 10 years and it’s really hard. Even if you really love the sport, your body can’t do it. And then your game starts breaking down, you’re getting injured and your mind isn’t there either. It’s tough.
Source: MSN/Fox Sports
Ljubicic is in the Indian Wells final. Good for Papa Ivan, but golly-gee, I hate Indian Wells.
BRING ON MIAMI ALREADY.
1. As any player without a claim to history will tell you – tennis isn’t all about the slams.
And they might be right – judging from the reactions of last week’s victors.
For Nole and Venus, it was the satisfaction of defending their territory. Winning a tournament once says you had a great week, defending it the second time round turns it into surrogate home turf.
For Ernie and Kleybs on the other hand, they’ll look back on last week with some nostalgia in the years to come. A maiden title is always an important milestone, no matter where you go from there.
2. If only I knew where Ernie will go from here. I used to like Gulbiscuit. I want to like Gulbiscuit again. He had me on the bandwagon in 08 before he pushed me off.
Well, I ain’t rushing back this time – it’s going to take a lot more than “Delray Beach” to bring me back onboard.
How do I know that in 5 years time, I won’t be sitting here wondering what happened to Ernests Gulbis the same way I wonder about what happened to “that other guy from Wham”?
What did happen to the other guy from “Wham!” anyway?
3. While we’re on the topic of Delray Beach winners, what’s going on these days with Kei Nishikori? Apart from a big fat nothing that is.
4. Not the best 31st birthday for Dr Ivo, but a final ain’t so bad. He’ll live with that.
5. It ain’t a maiden title, but Nole defended a title for the first time in his career in Dubai and he did it, as Brad Gilbert would say, by “winning ugly” – edging out his opponents in a series of tiresome 3-setters.
But can you begrudge him the victory? Would you like that with an asterisk too?
Of course not.
There was a time, back in 06-07, when I found Novak Djokovic overwhelming.
First I loved him and found him fun. Then I despise him and thought he was foul. I admired his tennis, which was fearsome and exhilarating. Mostly, I just didn’t know what to do with his “in-your-faceness”.
These days, I can barely summon any emotions either way for Djoko. He learned to be correct and diplomatic in the media. He learnt to play like a pusher and unlearned how to serve. Outside the slams, he plays more tournaments than anyone else in the top 4 and is the most consistent player.
The problem, for me, is that he’s too consistently underwhelming. Be it semis or finals, or the opportunistic title runs in Beijing, Bercy or Dubai against a depleted field, Djokovic sits like a big pile of blah in my tennis peripheral vision, and I can neither love him nor hate him.
What say you on Djoko?
6. As the Winter Olympics came to an end today, I wondered how Tennis Nation would deal with someone like Plushenko. I wondered what would happen if a Wimbledon finalist came out and said: “you can’t win Wimbledon if you don’t serve and volley. All the baseline rallies, it’s not grass court tennis, it’s like squash.”
Yes, Plushenko’s a complete tool. But he’s good and he knows it.
Not only does he know it, he’s so convinced of his own superiority that he won’t have anyone tell him otherwise.
I’m twisted enough to find that refreshing.
7. I’m also twisted enough to find Andy Murray’s brutal candour this week refreshing, after he managed to piss off a second tournament organiser in a row this week in Dubai. (Full story)
I personally don’t mind what he said, given that Mandy doesn’t exactly have high EQ. Perhaps more revealing is his constant reference to “what would Roger do“. Don’t deny it dude, you secretly care more about him than you do anyone else.
8. Am I the only person in Tennis Nation who loves Alisa Kleybanova?
She’s everything opposite of an elegant player: she hits her groundstrokes as if she’s playing tennis with a fry-pan. She looks off-balance 90% of the time on court. The remaining 10%, when she’s serving. She’s not built like a tennis player, which is a gentle way of putting it, nor does she move like one.
These are precisely the reasons why I enjoy watching her. Her crap is inexplicably good, as she demonstrated yesterday with her complete dominance over Dementieva.
Really. She’s just sweet and totally squishable.
9. Since the first week of 2010, Elena Dementieva has played the Hopman Cup, Sydney, Australian Open, Paris and Kuala Lumpur. I say this for her benefit: get out of my face.
10. Venus defends her second title in a row, winning Acapulco and mirroring her results this time last year. She now has the second highest number of clay court titles on tour (behind Henin). Not what you’d expect from the Queen of Grass, but it’s what you’d expect from a player who’s good enough to play “BYO tennis” on her worst surface and still perform respectably.
Nothing makes me happier than seeing Venus on a good run. Retirement my arse.