BOTTOM LINE – Olympic outcome: Gold
A year that has seen the emergence of several new faces was also notable for the career renaissance experienced by some former standouts. The most convincing resurgence was staged by Elena Dementieva, a Muscovite who in 2004 reached two Grand Slam finals – a feat somewhat obscured by the fact that three of her fellow Russians won Slams that year (Anastasia Myskina won the French; Maria Sharapova won Wimbledon; and Svetlana Kuznetsova won the U.S. Open).
Last year, Dementieva fell out of the year-end Top 10 for the first time since 2002, but in 2008 she pushed her way back into the top tier – and then some – with a career-high year-end ranking of No. 4. An early-season title in Dubai indicated that Dementieva had not lost her firepower. She suffered a setback at the French Open, blowing a 6-4, 5-2 lead against Dinara Safina in the quarterfinals, but bounced back to reach the Wimbledon semifinals and then focused on what was, for her, the most important tournament of the season – the Olympics.
The surprise silver medalist in Sydney eight years ago, Dementieva is the rare player who takes the Games as seriously as the Slams, and her three-set victory over Dinara Safina in the gold-medal final left Dementieva screaming in delight. The Olympic victory was so momentous that she traveled from Beijing to Russia to celebrate. Dementieva, who has chosen to reside in Moscow instead of moving abroad, declared upon her return home that she had no tennis goals left: “The rest of my career I can just play for fun.”
Maybe that attitude will help Dementieva stop choking at Slams, especially when she faces other Russians. She’s made it to at least the semifinals of a major on six different occasions, and at 27, she should have a few more chances left – but not enough to be wasteful.
To-Do List: Remember that winning is the most fun