DOHA, Qatar (AP) — In a ceremony filled with tears, Elena Dementieva retired from tennis after a loss at the WTA Championships ended her 13-year career.
“It is so emotional,” she said. “It is so hard to say goodbye. I am going to miss you so much.”
The 29-year-old Russian reached two Grand Slam finals, won the gold medal at the Beijing Olympics and helped spur the growth of tennis in her home country.
Dementieva struggled with injuries this year but still won two tournaments. She announced her retirement following a 6-4, 6-2 defeat to French Open champion Francesca Schiavone. Dementieva was surrounded by her fellow players during the ceremony, with mother Vera courtside.
“She has been one of the players I grew up with playing in juniors,” said Kim Clijsters, holding back tears. “It’s nice to see her looking forward to something new in her life. … She has been one of the most professional players, one of the nicest girls on the court.”
Dementieva said she’d decided at the beginning of 2010 that this would be her last season. Her family, she said, tried to persuade her to play two more years.
“They were very surprised,” she said. “I was really looking for some support. I think nobody was really happy about it, maybe except my boyfriend.”
“To be honest with you,” she added, “I mean, if I would be a man I would never stop playing. But at the age 29, I have to think about something else. I think I’m ready for a big change in my life.”
Dementieva is ranked No. 9 after reaching a career-high No. 3 last year. This season she overcame shoulder, calf and ankle problems to qualify for the WTA Championships a 10th time.
“I think she has been great inspiration for a lot of young Russians,” Vera Zvonareva said. “She was a role model. I looked up to her. She had such a great career. Right now, the whole country will be sad and everyone will support her.”
Stacy Allaster, chief executive officer of the WTA, said in a statement that Dementieva has been a “champion and consummate professional on and off the court.”
“She has also been a catalyst for the growth of the sport in Russia and around the world,” she added.
Dementieva considered her biggest achievement the Beijing title in which she beat Serena Williams, Zvonareva and Dinara Safina en route to the gold medal.
Dementieva was part of the first all-Russian Grand Slam final, losing the French title in 2004 to Anastasia Myskina. Later that year she reached her only other Grand Slam final — another all-Russian affair, this time at the U.S. Open with Svetlana Kuznetsova.
Dementieva competed in 46 consecutive Grand Slams until she missed this year’s Wimbledon because of a calf injury. After turning pro in 1998, Dementieva won 16 titles, including Sydney in January with a win over Williams, and the Paris Indoors in February. She was in two more finals in Kuala Lumpur and Tokyo.
Dementieva played 18 series in the Fed Cup, leading Russia to the 2005 title with all three points in the final. She has been ranked in the top 20 since April 2003 and was a top-five doubles player. She finishes with a 576-273 record and a place in the year-end top 10 for the seventh time in eight years.
“I never wanted to wait until my ranking dropped and I’m not going to be able to go to the main draw,” Dementieva said. “I always wanted to leave this sport with a passion for it. Tennis has been such a big part of my life, and always will be.”