October 11, 2008

Elena Dementieva

(info about Elena Dementieva)

A few words about Russia

Thomas Kieller

Elena Dementieva: Ready for the ball.

On a beautiful afternoon in Paris, London or Melbourne, a tennis match has certainly a pleasant aspect to it. But, joy arises even more when a friendly face shines upon us… With her electrifying game, entrancing personality and with her nice smile, Elena attracts crowds from the four corners of the world. This elegant woman with long blond hair moves lightly on the court. Athletic, agile and quick, she recuperates in a few long strides a ball drop a few inches from the net. As for her offensive abilities and her powerful forehand, they add an imaginative touch to her matches where exciting exchanges lift us off our seats. And yet, what touches us the most is her passion for the game. In a natural way, this young Russian expresses her feelings on the court by sharing her happiness with a beaming smile, a shout of joy or when she falls to her knees. With this same spontaneity, she lives with us her few deceptions. Combative and determined, her aims and her dreams place her to the summit of her sport. Indeed, a promising path draws itself for Elena… Whatever will happen, she will always share with us her joy of life and her passion for tennis.

The interview took place on July 27, 2008 at 13:25 in the interview room of the Rogers Cup tournament of the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour in Montreal, Canada.

Prelude – In a room near the central court, tables are placed here and there. As it is common at the beginning of a tournament, many players of the top 10 of the Women's Tennis Association converse with numerous journalists and reporters. Elena, in a good mood and relaxed, welcomes me warmly and talks with me about her Russian background.

Recent success of the Russian players

Thomas Kieller: Currently, there are eight Russian ladies in the top 20 and 16 in the top 100. Even if tennis is an individual sport, are you proud of the recent success of your country?

Elena Dementieva: Honestly, I’m very proud. I know tennis is a very individual sport and there is a big competition between all of us, but I’m very proud to see so many good Russian players at the top because I know how hard we worked this year. It did not happen overnight. We really deserve what we achieve in our career. So, it’s amazing to see so many great results. If you remember in 2004, the Roland-Garros and the US Open finals (Grand Slam tournaments) were all Russians. This makes me really proud as a Russian player.

Thomas: One can say that to have so much top level players from a country cannot be due to chance! Is there a program in Russia to develop the young players? Or you have very good coaches!

Elena: Well, Russia is a very big country and the top players are coming from different places. Some girls are practicing in Spain while others in the United States. Nevertheless, I think in Russia we have a lot of good coaches for kids and it is why we have a very nice technique. It all happens when you are young as far as the technique and the way you see the game goes. Afterwards, it comes with your desire. It is all about your motivation and what you want to achieve! We all work hard; that’s what I can say about all the Russian players.

Thomas: Are the training facilities good in your country? Do you find all types of courts to develop well all the techniques?

Elena: I don’t think we have great facilities. Certainly, in the United States, in Canada or some places in Europe, you can find better training facilities. But, if you really want to play, it does not matter what kind of court you play on or what kind of racket you have, it’s all about how hard you want to practice. So, coming from not the best facilities, it was for us like an extra motivation to work harder.

Thomas: And for you, how did you develop in Russia or outside?

Elena (speaks with passion): I was born in Moscow. I was practicing all the time there and I’m still practicing in that city. I had a lot of opportunities to go somewhere else, but I just feel like this is my home town. I love Moscow! So, when I have a chance I always go back for a few days. Of course, there are a lot of other places where I’m practicing such as in the United States where I’m practicing in an academy in Florida. I have a place in Monaco where I practice when I’m playing European tournaments. But yes, all around the world because I travel so much.

Thomas: Furthermore, is tennis popular in Russia for girls? And what about the guys, they simply prefer a good game of hockey!

Elena (laughs): Yes, tennis is very popular especially with all the results we got last year. I’m sure you will see again a lot of young girls coming up from Russia. And I don’t know why it’s not… Well, I still feel it’s very popular for the guys, but there are a lot of sports such soccer and hockey where men are more involved, maybe they like it better.

Thomas: If we go back to all these good Russian girl players, do you like all that competition?

Elena: Yes, there is good competition and I like to be in it because this is a motivation for me. So, this is great. I think it’s more difficult when you are the only player in your country and there is no one else to compete with you. In that context, it’s very hard to improve your game, go further and just be a better player. For us, it just comes naturally with this competition.

Thomas: Currently in the world ranking you are behind fellow country players Maria Sharapova and Svetlana Kuznetsova, can it be a source of motivation for you to become Russia’s number one player, even if you have already been in this position?

Elena: It’s always, but I have to say not for Russia. I want to be number one in the world. It’s not about becoming number one in Russia. My goal was always to achieve that top level. So, for the moment the biggest opponents I have to play with are the Russian girls. I have been asked sometimes why you always lose to Russian girls in the finals, but the thing is Svetlana, Anastasia and Maria are all great players.

Representing Russia at the Olympics and the Fed Cup

Thomas: Is it something important for you to represent your country at the Fed Cup and at the Olympic Games?

Elena: Yes, for me it is a very special feeling to represent my country and I’m very proud to do so at the Olympics. It will be my third Games and I really want to play well there1. When I participated in Sydney and Athens, I remember it was something quite special. They were two experiences that I will never forget. It’s hard to compare that with the Grand Slam tournaments and with the other tournaments on the tour because at the Olympics you are not just playing for yourself. You play for your country and this gives you just so much more energy and more desire when you are on the court. This is great.

Thomas: Simply living an Olympic dream and bringing back with you a silver medal from Sydney were surely good sensations!

Elena (smiles): It is just one of the best moments in my career. Well, probably the best because I was only 18 years old. Nobody expected something great for me. When I went there, I did everything I could. I played my best and then I was in the finals. Honestly, the silver was like gold for me! I just have great memory from Athens.

Thomas: At the Fed Cup, you were runner-up twice with Team Russia in 1999 and 2000. However, I want to focus more on the aspect that you won the 2005 Fed Cup with Anastasia Myskina, Dinara Safina and Vera Dushevina. Did you like that team spirit?

Elena: Yes, I liked it because it was just a different experience. You know it was more like a life experience because playing tennis you feel just a little bit selfish. It’s an individual sport. To be part of a team, you have to know how to communicate and how to get along with your teammates because it’s all about spirit. You can see a lot of time good players at the Fed Cup, but they never had the chance to win because the team spirit was missing. So, for us, it was a big moment. We were able to feel as a team and play as a team. It is why we won this final against the best French players in the Roland-Garros stadium in Paris.

Thomas: Well, Russia is doing awesomely at the Fed Cup in the past years! Can you tell me the selection method in order to determine who’s on the team or is it by invitation?

Elena: It is an invitation and usually we have our captain Shamil Tarpischev who invites you to play for the team. I think it is based on the ranking position, so he always asked the players with the better ranking position to come to play for the Fed Cup.

Thomas: In résumé, the success of Russia makes you push harder and in a way makes you a better player?

Elena: Oh yes, this is the only way to improve your game. You want to push yourself harder and you want to be better. It’s an extra motivation.

Just simply the end

Thomas: And why should a spectator go see a Russian player or you play? To taste a little bit of the Russian culture!

Elena (laughs): To see Russian players on the court... I don’t know! They are many different good reasons… maybe if you like blond girls, pretty blond girls playing tennis! It can be one of the good reasons. But I think it’s also the good level of the game. I mean you can see great athletes from Russia!

Thomas: Well done!

1. For the purpose of this article, Elena won, August 17, 2008 (three weeks after this interview), a gold medal at the Beijing Olympic Games ahead of her Russian compatriots Dinara Safina and Vera Zvonareva who took the silver and bronze medals. An impressive all Russian podium!