Over the years Elena Dementieva has been involved in her fair share of battles. Battles with Venus Williams, Serena Williams, Justine Henin, Lindsay Davenport… everyone. So many became instant classics, showcasing everything that made Elena Dementieva such an incredible tennis player and character. There was the good; her courage, her resilience, her incredible athleticism, her unrivalled fitness, her goofy celebrations, those legendary one-way arguments with Mommy Vera and, of course, that trademark Full-body Rotation Screaming Forehand of Death. And there was the bad; that thing (also known as her serve) and of course her well-documented mental fragility. So many of these classics ended in complete heartbreak and bitter disappointment for Elena, but not many came close to the agony of last year’s Wimbledon semi-final.
Throughout the years, the one surface that Elena struggled to conquer was grass. Between 2000 and 2007, she made the quarterfinals only once – her serve holding her back on the hallowed lawns of Wimbledon. However, as the years went by she finally seemed to master the serve that had troubled her for so long. In 2008 she reached her first ever Wimbledon semi-final. She would eventually lose to Venus Williams in straight sets, but that was okay, it gave her the preparation she needed to go that one step further next year. And she did… almost.
In 2009, serve improving with every match, she again raced into the semifinals, where she would take on Serena Williams. This time, she was ready. She sent a message down the court from the very first game, immediately breaking Serena to take an early lead. As the match wore on, the rallies raged. The pace they were bludgeoning the ball at was impressive, but not more impressive than the pure athleticism that both players exhibited. They both broke boundaries that day, reaching balls that so few could reach and turning defence into offence in the most unlikely and unbelievable positions.
Eventually the pair found themselves tied at a set all and 4-4. At this point, though the score was so painstakingly close, it was Elena whose groundstrokes were by far the more reliable and impressive of the two. She held, and then at 5-4* she fought her way to 30-30 and finally, she had a chance. The Russian took it with both hands, and after a lengthy rally she smashed down a trademark crosscourt forehand winner. And suddenly she was one point away from her first ever Wimbledon final.
She may have lost confidence in her misfiring groundstrokes, but there is a reason why Serena Williams is the greatest player of her generation. Rather than panicking, Serena attacked and then moved forward to the net, forcing Elena to come up with the goods to win the match from her. As we all know, Elena couldn’t. She ended up taking the backhand pass far too low, and had no choice but to roll it crosscourt. Serena pounced on the volley, and that was that. Serena would go on to win the match 6-7 7-5 8-6, while Elena would be left distraught.
She may have lost the match, but she put on an incredible show. She wowed hourdes of fans with her game, and charmed the rest with her personality. Just as she did wherever she went. And that’s precisely why we will all miss her.
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