An open letter to Elena Dementieva
October 29th, 2010 • Elena Dementieva
Hi, you don’t know me, I’m just a fan. My name is Bárbara and I’m 20 years old. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but today you retired from professional tennis. (I make stupid jokes when I’m upset, I apologise.) Yesterday, I was cheering for you to make the semis in Doha and gain some extra points, today, I find out I’ll probably never watch you play again. It’s all a bit sudden, if you know what I mean. I’m not criticising you, I know you have your reasons to announce or not announce your retirement. Either way, before you get all defensive on me, let me tell you a bit about myself.
I come from Brazil. When I was 6, Gustavo Kuerten won Roland Garros and created a huge tennis frenzy in the country. I liked him. I believe, up until this day, he was one of the greatest role models and athletes my nation has ever had. But, at the time, I didn’t care all that much. I only seriously got into tennis at 10 — as seriously as you can possibly feel about something when you’re that age. And, when you’re 10, everything feels serious and eternal. I was watching the Sydney Olympics and I ended up catching the women’s singles final. After two not-all-that-great sets, I was in love. No — get off your high horse — not in love with you, in love with the sport. You can probably say there were better matches between 1997 and 2000 to get me into tennis, but love hits you in weird ways, doesn’t it? The Sydney final made me feel a level of excitement, empathy and, in the end, pure sadness that I didn’t know was capable of being felt through sport. After the match, you, Lena, had gained an Olympic silver medal. Tennis, on the other hand, had gained a die-hard fan.
Ever since that final, every year that passed, I loved tennis more and more. Ten years of my life were marked by you and other players hitting yellow fuzzy balls. As cliché as it may sound, I grew up watching you play. I don’t even have to think hard to recall some of your losses that hurt the most. Big ones, like that morning you lost to Myskina in Paris or that night that you lost to Kuznetsova in New York. And even smaller ones, like all the weekends I woke up at 6 AM to watch you play either semifinals or finals in Moscow and saw you lose. But, to be honest, the victories are just as easy to relive. I don’t even have to put any effort to remember the score against Serena when you finally clinched that Kremlin Cup title (5-7 6-1 6-1). Or reminisce how awesome it was when you, single-handedly, won the Fed Cup for Russia against the French in a full Phillipe Chatrier. And, believe me, Elena, I’m terrible with numbers. I can’t, for my life, recall my friends or family member’s birthdays. Turns out my brain believes tennis scores are more important than when my loved ones were born. (No, I was never clinically diagnosed crazy, why do you ask?) And, Elena, if I’m being completely honest with you, even some of your losses bring me good memories. That 2009 Wimbledon semifinal will forever go in history as one of the greatest women’s matches played on the holy grass. You have to feel nothing but pride about that.
Elena, you were the player that made me understand the meaning of the word ‘fan’. You were my football team, my role model, my superhero. I cared if you won or lost. Eventually, when you grow up, you start thinking ‘What difference does it make in my life if a leggy blonde Russian tennis player wins a match or not?’ But then it’s already too late. You’re already hooked. It’s safe to say I spent quite a few years of life trying to get that hook out of my mouth. As you can see, I failed.
You had a great career. Even if we ignore all the awards, the 16 titles, career high of number three, two Slam finals, Olympic gold medal and consistency – you’d still have had a great career. You created fans everywhere you went. You were always the classiest, in victory and defeat. Forget Roger Federer, you were the perfect definition of what a true champion was. If you’re 1% as good as you were an athlete on what you plan to do, then I’m sure you’ll do an amazing job. Feel free to keep in touch. Maybe we can go out for coffee — or vodka, I don’t know what you Russians drink when you’re unemployed.
All the best of luck in your future,