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Getting To Know Elena Dementieva
 
Whose idea was it to get you into tennis?
My mother’s. She enjoyed playing tennis as an amateur. She wasn’t playing professionally because she started way too late. We made our debut with my brother Vsevolod at Spartak Club and were coached by Rauza Islanova (the mother and first coach of Marat Safin). We ended up at Spartak because we were turned down at Dynamo and the Central Red Army Club (CSKA), so Spartak was our last-ditch attempt. And they accepted me.

At what age did you start playing?
At age seven. I practised with Islanova for three years. She was my first coach and I keep good memories of my time with her even though I had to part with her. She was very tough on us, but she educated us and forged our sports character. This desire to fight till the end was inherited from her, because she was tough and preserved strict sports-like discipline.

Did your path somehow cross with the new star of Russian men’s tennis, Marat Safin, as a practice partner or something?
Of course. But not as a practice partner – he always practised separately. But we were all members of one group and had a good time together.

Why did you leave Islanova?
When a coach has her own children playing tennis, especially on such a high level, it is obvious that she can’t pay as much attention to other children. Plus, we had a big group. So we realized that the attention was focused on Marat, then on his sister Dinara.

An Olympic medal is more important to you than a Grand Slam title?
Yes, exactly. I am choosing the Olympics because this is the tournament you will remember all your life, probably the only Olympic tournament I will ever play. I don’t know whether I will play another Olympic tournament. You never know what the future has in store, nobody knows. The Grand Slam tournaments follow each other, but when you play at the Olympics, you have a different feeling.

How did you end up marching in the very first row of the Russian national team at the opening ceremony in Sydney? Whose idea was it? Somebody must have thought, Hey, Russia must have a pretty face in the front row of the team.
(Laughter) It was a very funny story. On the eve of the opening ceremony, Alexander Kalivod (general secretary of the Russian Tennis Federation) comes up to me and says, “Lena, what do you say to a proposal to follow the flag?” I said, “Of course, I can.” I just didn’t realize what he meant. I thought we are all following the flag, right? But I didn’t realize I would be marching right after our flag bearer. So Kalivod said, “OK, deal.” And he ran away quickly. I assumed everybody refused to follow the flag. I would also have refused if I knew what he meant. And when we were all lined up before the ceremony, and they told me, “You are marching by the flag,” I was agape.

So how did your family and friends react?
My mom was stunned when she saw me on TV. She didn’t know about it. She told me, “We were ready to look for you in the middle of the column, but then we saw you in the very front.”

The Olympics were indeed something special for you.
I was proud of following the flag, that inspired me. And then my roommate in the Olympic village was Irina Karavaeva, our gold medallist in the trampoline. This also inspired me. So I had many inspiring moments at the Olympics which boosted my morale. I am telling you – all these WTA tournaments will be erased from memory sooner or later but the Olympics will stay.

To whom do you owe your recent breakthrough in tennis?
Of course, to my mom.

Tell me more about your family.
I was born in Moscow. My mother, Verai, is travellng with me on the tour. She used to be a teacher in a college. My father, Vyacheslav, is an engineer and my elder brother, Vsevolod, is a student at the Baumansky Institute (a prestigious technical school in Moscow).

You graduated from a secondary school in Moscow and specialized in French?
Right. I graduated last year. My education came to a halt.

Do you plan to continue your education sometime later?
I would like to. Because the longer it drags on, the more time passes and the harder it will be for me to begin studying. It will be tough to go back to school when you are a grown-up. I would like to be working with languages. Initially I wanted to take up journalism but having met with so many journalists and having had so many contacts with the press, I gave up on the idea. I just realized it is not a job for me.

What about your hobbies, favorite pastimes?
I have little time left for those. I do collect cactuses and Svarowski figures – these crystal things.

Why cactuses?
(Laughter). Don’t know, but I kind of like them. They need little care. You leave, forget to water them, but they are still okay.

Pets?
Two cats.