When Elena Dementieva walked off the court at the French Open last June, she pulled her visor down low to shield the tears that were welling up in her eyes. The Russian had just retired from her semifinal match against Francesca Schiavone due to an injured calf muscle and seemed to understand that her last best chance to win that elusive Grand Slam had just passed her by.
The 29-year-old retired on Friday from tennis after a loss to Francesca Schiavone at the WTA Championships in Qatar. She leaves the sport with 16 titles, but none in majors, giving her the dubious distinction of greatest player to never win a Grand Slam.
There are a number of other contenders for that title: Pam Shriver, Helena Sukova and Mary Joe Fernandez, to name a few. But Dementieva's consistency, all-around abilities and flawless groundstrokes make her the easy choice. Consider:
• The Russian will finish in the top 20 for the 11th consecutive year.
• She'll have ended the season in the top 10 in seven of the last eight years.
• Dementieva was successful on every surface, winning on clay, hard and indoor courts, and advancing to the final of one grass-court tournament.
• She made the finals of two Grand Slams (2004 French Open, 2004 U.S. Open).
• During her career, she played in 46 consecutive Grand Slam events.
• In 2008, she won the gold medal in women's singles at the Olympics in Beijing. Eight years earlier, Dementieva won silver in Sydney.
• She was given the WTA sportsmanship award in 2008.
After her match on Friday, Dementieva spoke to the crowd:
"I want to thank everyone who has supported me through my career, including the WTA, all of the tournaments and the staff, all of the WTA players I have had the pleasure of playing with, the sponsors that are so important for our sport, my mother Vera and my family and of course, the fans that have been there for me through the years," said Dementieva. "While I look forward to the next chapter of my life, I will miss all of you very much."
During the ceremony, she was joined on the court by the other players in the tournament, including two who didn't have any scheduled matches for the day. That simple gesture by players in a notoriously unfriendly sport says more about Elena Dementieva than any hole on her resume possibly could.