Elena Dementieva, who won gold at the 2008 Olympic Games, called time on her 12-year tennis career on Friday and said it felt like the “end of the world.”
The 29-year-old Russian stunned the crowd at the WTA Championships by announcing her retirement from the middle of the court at the Khalifa Tennis Complex after losing her final group game to Francesca Schiavone.
Dementieva won 16 Tour titles and finished runner-up at the 2004 French and U.S. Opens, reaching a career-high of third in the world rankings in 2009 and earning more than $14 million in prize-money.
As Kim Clijsters, Vera Zvonareva and other competitors at the season-ending tournament stood side-by-side wiping away tears, Dementieva thanked her fans and paid tribute to her mother and coach Vera.
“I would like to thank all the people around the world for supporting me,” Dementieva told the crowd. “I’m so emotional and it’s so hard to say goodbye.”
Her compatriot Zvonareva took the microphone and thanked Dementieva for her contribution to sport back home.
“Russia is proud of you,” said Zvonareva. “You have done so much not only for Russian tennis but for sport in Russia. You have been an inspiration, a role model for kids growing up.”
Dementieva, making her 10th appearance at the prestigious year-end competition, won two of the first three tournaments this season but struggled with a calf injury that saw her miss Wimbledon.
She suffered losses to Schiavone and world number one Caroline Wosniacki in the Maroon Group in Doha but gave a vintage performance to defeat Sam Stosur on Thursday, which made her decision to retire all the more surprising.
“Right now I feel like it’s the end of the world because I really like to play,” she told a media conference.
“I always wanted to leave this sport with a passion for it. 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 she made the decision to retire at the start of the season and that at 29 she had to explore new avenues.
“I think I’m ready for the big change in my life,” she said, adding that she would continue to study at university in Moscow.
“It’s going to be a completely different life for me. Tennis has been such a big part of my life and always will be.”
A proud competitor for Russia in the Fed Cup and at the Olympic Games, Dementieva said winning the gold medal in Beijing was the pinnacle of her career.
“I’m sure I’m going to remember myself as Olympic champion. That’s the best thing that could ever happen in my career,” she said. “That was the biggest goal and I’m so proud of that moment.”