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Championships Profile: Elena Dementieva
DOHA, Qatar – If evidence was still needed that tennis belonged at the Olympics, skeptics had to look no further than Elena Dementieva, the sport’s ecstatic champion at the recent Beijing Games. The joy, and a measure of disbelief, was written all over the Russian’s face after she defeated Dinara Safina in the final; here was a player who would not exchange her gold medal for all the world – or even a Wimbledon title.
Dementieva got her first taste of the Olympic dream eight years ago, when as a relative newcomer she won silver at Sydney. Since then she has proven to be one of the Tour’s most durable performers, qualifying for the season-ending championships every year between 2000 and 2006. But in 2007 the former world No.4 had dropped out of the Top 10, and made it to the Madrid finale only as an alternate. It was not unreasonable to assume her best days were past.
Reasonable, but, it turns out, very wrong. For in her 27th year – and a decade after she turned pro – Dementieva has in 2008 put together arguably her best season to date.
Sure, 2004 will always be important, for that was the year Dementieva was a protagonist in the first all-Russian Grand Slam final at Roland Garros, as well as the second, at Flushing Meadows three months later. But on both occasions she came away emptied handed, while Anastasia Myskina and Svetlana Kuznetsova enjoyed the spoils of victory.
This year, as well as Olympic glory, Dementieva achieved another breakthrough, reaching the semifinals at Wimbledon for the first time, falling only to eventual champion Venus Williams. And somehow she managed to collect herself post-Olympics to reach the semis at the US Open for the fourth time. Shortly after came the announcement that the Russian had secured her ticket to Doha, the fifth player to do so.
“One of my goals has always been to get as close as possible to the top and to make it to the Sony Ericsson Championships,” Dementieva said of the feat, which coincided with a brief return to the No.4 ranking slot. “Making it to Doha just shows me that I’ve been doing a few things right this season, so I am just very happy about my qualification. I have played very well all year and I will certainly try my best to finish the season on a high note.”
Dementieva is first to admit her serve will always be a work in progress, but it has certainly been more robust over the past 12 months, which has boosted the Russian’s confidence in all aspects of her game. This has been demonstrated by consistent results week in, week out, as well as a further two Tour titles.
The first came early in the season at Dubai, where for the first time Dementieva beat two Top 3 players – Ana Ivanovic and Svetlana Kuznetsova – during the same event. And just two weeks ago she triumphed at Luxembourg, holding out for a three set win over Caroline Wozniacki in a classic encounter of youth and experience. In between, early losses have been rare, and Dementieva also finished runner-up twice, at Berlin and Istanbul.
Dementieva reached the semifinals at the Tour Championships the first year she made the cut, back in 2000. Although she has failed to progress past the round robin stage since the format was introduced in 2003, another career-best showing could be on the cards in Qatar this week.