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!