Elena Dementieva: Is This Her Year?

Uncle Volodya says, "Bring your best game, Elena - you'll need it"

The Russian Flag, soon to be seen on the podium at Flushing

As tennis followers well know, the U.S. Open is about to get underway in Flushing, New York. I’m not normally a follower of women’s tennis, but I became somewhat interested in it as a result of the constant ridicule of Russian female players at La Russophobe. The usual target of her sneering and mockery is tall, cool, understatedly lovely Maria Sharapova, but she seems very well-versed in the sport and knows something about nearly all the players. Naturally, her favourites are the Williams sisters, but when any American player beats a Russian player, you can almost smell the gloating.

That’s odd, because Americans are often among the most sportsmanlike of athletes. That’s even true of the Williams sisters in most cases, although they have each been known to lose it from time to time. Not at La Russophobe. No, if Russians end up anywhere other than number one, they’re simply more proof of what failures Russians are as athletes. If an American wins the event, it’s double happiness in the La Russophobe camp – success for America, and failure for Russia.

Anyway, you could hardly research the subject of women’s tennis without noticing how many attractive women fill its ranks. Russia certainly has nothing to be ashamed of there, and not just among its tennis players; Russia has more beautiful women per square kilometer than anywhere I’ve been. Its tennis players are no exception. Although sports photography nearly always shows people at their worst – when you’re putting everything you’ve got into a two-handed backhand, your face often wears an expression that suggests somebody just ran about 4000 volts into your head through your earrings – many of these ladies are beauties when you see them photographed in repose.

Like great songs, it’s hard to choose just one, but a favourite of mine is Moscow marvel Elena Dementieva. At just an inch under six feet tall, she’s not a delicate flower, but a toned, muscular weapon. The 2008 Olympic gold medalist is currently ranked at World number 8, and is the top Russian player. There’s no room to relax, though; she is one of four Russians in the world top 20, which also includes Vera Zvonareva (11), Maria Sharapova (12) and Svetlana Kuznetsova (16) – there are more Russians than any other nation in the top 20.

Women’s singles has been an event in the U.S. Open since 1968, but no Russian won it until 2004 (Svetlana Kuznetsova, with Elena Dementieva as runner-up). Two years later, Maria Sharapova was the champion, with Belgian Justine Henin in second. Svetlana Kuznetsova took second in 2007….and the time is now ripe for a Russian win.

Wikipedia (sorry, but no other site has such a comprehensive description) describes Dementieva’s playing style as “an offensive baseline player with powerful groundstrokes off both sides and excellent defensive skills. Her preferred groundstroke is her forehand, which she hits hard and flat. In particular, her running forehand, which she rarely misses, is a key weapon for Dementieva when she is on the defensive. Dementieva is also known for her excellent athleticism and speed around the court. Dementieva makes few net approaches except to return drop shots or to take advantage of weak returns from her opponents, although since Wimbledon 2009 she has been more aggressive at times.

She has no particular favourite surface, as her playing ability allows her to adapt easily on each surface although her best results have tended to be on hard courts, and she looks less comfortable moving confidently on clay. While her heavy groundstroking baseline game would not seem to be that suited to grass, her athleticism and improved serve, in particular her slice serve, have led to two consecutive semi final appearances at Wimbledon. Dementieva’s serve has shown improvement since 2008, committing fewer double faults and occasionally managing aces.”

It’s true – in my limited understanding of the game – that Dementieva’s serve was a weakness which appears to have been corrected: I know I wouldn’t want to try to catch it. She has power to spare, although she will have to watch the double-faults (it’s hard to get as close to the top of the net as you can, while smashing the ball that hard, and not hit the net) and perhaps play up a little, as the action dictates.

Although the world champion, Serena Williams, has unfortunately withdrawn from competition owing to a slight injury to her foot, it’s still going to be a tough field. I feel good about Dementieva’s chances of going all the way. Good luck, Elena – I’ll be cheering for you!

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4 Responses to Elena Dementieva: Is This Her Year?

  1. alterismus says:

    “Russia has more beautiful women per square kilometer than anywhere I’ve been.” Back in my high school days and first couple of years of college I worked as a translator quite often, and most of the foreigners I’ve worked with would say exact same thing. I would always kindly thank them for the nice words but would think to myself: “Really? Seems to me we are just alright.” Then I was away from Russia for a year and when I came back it hit me – oh boy, it is true! our women are gorgeous! I do not in any way intend for this to come out arrogant, but we really are somehow🙂 I think it has something to do with the culture, girls usually try very hard – I remember being 13 and waking up at 6am every morning only to spend an hour in the bathroom doing my hair and make up. In a way it is a ritual that everybody around you follows and you can’t help but. These days, every time I take a taxi here in Shanghai and a driver asks me where I’m from, their reaction to me being Russian is always the same – “Oh, the land of beautiful women!” Makes me smile🙂

    • marknesop says:

      There’s a hint of the exotic about Russian women, at least for western men; they look not quite Asian, but there’s something different about their appearance that transcends the immediately-noticeable long legs and chiseled cheekbones. I used to laugh at the suggestion that Russian women were broadly attractive, having never been there and imagining some sort of buxom, plump collective-farm maiden with ruddy cheeks, driving a tractor with her left hand while holding a yearling pig under her right arm. I wasn’t prepared for the understated elegance (you don’t see too many Russian women in public in baggy track pants and sneakers), the air of refinement and the willowy figures. Every country has produced stunning women, but I’ve never seen anything like Russia for having so many of them, in every sector of society.

  2. Yalensis says:

    If you appreciate athletic and beautiful Russian women, then please Google lovely boxing championka Natalia Ragozina! (My personal favorite!)

    • marknesop says:

      Wow! A little butch for me, as one might expect from a woman who could pop your head right off if you annoyed her, but she looks like she was put together by a master. Quite an impressive frame – I hope women’s boxing does become an Olympic event (as one of the articles accompanying the photos suggests) in the near future, so this dynamo can take the first gold medal. You get old fast in professional fighting, and a medal win would let her transition into endorsements after she’d fought as long as she wanted to.

      I like athletes who look a bit slighter and more feminine, and probably couldn’t throw me like a dart if I said the wrong thing. But you’re right – she is a beauty. “Billion Dollar Baby” awakened interest in female fighters, so she’s perfectly positioned to take advantage of it.

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