Category Archives: Flashback

Flashback: 2009 Wimbledon Semifinal - Elena Dementieva vs Serena Williams

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.

Posted in Elena Dementieva, Flashback, Serena Williams, Wimbledon | Leave a comment

Flashback: 2000 US Open Semi-final – Venus Williams def. Martina Hingis 4-6 6-3 7-5

The Men’s Final was far from the only classic match to take place at the 2000 US Open. During arguably one of the greatest periods in the history of the Womens Tennis, the tour’s two best athletes collaborated to produce one of the greatest tennis matches in recent memory.

Having been sidelined for the first four months of the year with tendonitis in both wrists, Venus Williams mounted a fabulous summer comeback in 2000; ticking off her first Grand Slam title, and then picking up the Olympic Gold in Sydney for good measure. She came into the 2000 US Open on a 23 match win streak, and in the form of her life. A year earlier she had fallen to Martina Hingis in a dramatic semi-final under the lights. She had had the Swiss Miss on the ropes, chomping down energy bars and visibly exhausted, but Venus failed to put her away. Serena would go on to beat Martina in the final for her first Grand Slam title. That whole affair would eat at her for a long time.

A year later and they were back in exactly the same position. The match was hyped to an unbelievable extent and the excitement was unbearable. Many saw it as the “de-facto” final, and fireworks were expected. At the beginning of the match, the match looked destined to disappoint. Martina weaved her web; using her trademark variety in the way that only she knew how to. She varied the trajectory, spin and speed of the ball sporadically – keeping Venus off-balance and squeezing errors out of her like a soaked sponge. Hingis took the first set 6-4.

This semi-final was one of the few times the US Open Crowds have really gotten fully behind Venus, and as they screamed for her to come to life, a new Venus took to the court for set two. Suddenly the level of play was reaching astounding heights. Every single point was seemingly over 20 strokes long, with Venus looking to attack and move into the forecourt to put away drive volleys, while Martina continued in her efforts to pin Venus at the back of the court and draw errors out of her. The contrast in styes created something magical, as both seemed to better each other with every point. Venus would cover the court three straight times before unleashing a thunderous backhand pass, and then in the very next point Martina would do exactly the same thing, before unleashing a vicious lob to cruelly steal the point from her rival’s grasp.

As the rallies raged on, Hingis eventually found herself up a break in the third set. She raced to a 5-3 30-15 lead and working her way into the ascendency of yet another gruelling point, she had a chance to put a smash away for double match point. It was by no means an easy smash, but visibly tense, she guided it into court rather than putting it away. That was all Venus needed as she chased down the smash and unleashed a crashing backhand down-the-line winner to take the point. Even though Hingis was still two points away from the match, the dramatic momentum shift was felt by all. And sure enough, Venus snatched the game and then reeled off the next three games to win the match. And that was that.

To this day, this US Open semi-final remains one of my favourite matches of all time. With such contrasting gamestyles and an unbelievable fierce rivalry on and offcourt, many matches between the two have been classics, but I feel that transcends even those matches. The shotmaking, the athleticism, the unbelievable rallies… Nothing short of amazing.

Gotta love the commentator’s reactions.

Posted in Flashback, Martina Hingis, Venus Williams | 2 Comments

Flashback: 2000 US Open Final - Marat Safin def. Pete Sampras 6-4 6-3 6-3

Going into the 2000 US Open final, not many believed that Marat Safin had much of a chance against Pete Sampras. He was young, inexperienced, temperamental, while Sampras was gunning for his 14th slam and had won 8 straight slam finals. Safin had defeated Sampras only weeks before in Montreal, and just two ranking places separated the two. But it was still a mismatch.

And that’s why what Safin achieved on the 11th September 2000 was so incredible. Rather than succumbing to the pressure and being flattened by Sampras like so many great champions before him, he rose to the occassion and produced one of, if not the greatest performance of his career. And indeed one of the greatest performances ever. While his serving was exemplary and his groundstrokes were faultless brilliance, what made this performance and the result so stunning was the way in which he dealt with one of the greatest serves in tennis history. It wasn’t the case of him just blocking it back, he didn’t even try to neutralize it. Instead, he stood his ground, faced it head-on, and crushed return after return without any fear or remorse. Regardless of whether it was a first or second serve, 130mph or 100mph, every serve was dealt with in the same, bone-crunching fashion. Sampras later said; “He passed and returned my serve better than anyone I’ve ever played.” And he was damn right.

Safin went on to finish the year with six other titles and a brief stint at number one to accompany his first Grand Slam title. Many felt that the 2000 US Open was Safin’s breakthrough tournament, his coming-out year, and that he would win many, many more Grand Slams. But it didn’t happen. After a slew of injuries, years of indifference and a lack of work ethic, he retired in 2009 with only one additional Grand Slam -- the 2005 Australian Open. He is widely seen as a chronic underachiever, and many believe that had he put more effort into his career he could have become one of Federer’s prime rivals, pipping him to the post in one or two more. And while Safin’s career certainly serves as a reminder that talent can only take you so far in tennis, in the two slams that he did win he produced two of the greatest tennis matches we have ever seen. Can’t argue with that.

Posted in Flashback, Marat Safin | 2 Comments