Photo credit: @mkirilenko
Way back in September of 2011, Alex Ovechkin was in New York City for a preseason press junket with a bunch of other NHL stars. I’m sure you remember the event: Ovi wore a Nike t-shirt (an unsightly one at that) to what was basically a Versace event.
Ovechkin was still given the royal treatment anyway, landing free tickets to the US Open. Ovechkin had never been to a tennis match, but something deep inside Ovi’s considerable core must have told him he should go.
“Destiny,” Ovechkin later said of that very important decision to Sports Illustrated’s Sarah Kwak. “I believe in destiny.”
Ovechkin wandered over to a practice court where Maria Kirilenko was warming up with her doubles partner, Nadia Petrova. They were fellow Russians, so Ovechkin struck up an easy conversation. He insists he wasn’t nervous about approaching the blonde beauty, but Kirilenko thinks he was, a little. “When are you guys playing?” he finally asked.
And so Ovechkin sat in the grandstand at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center and watched the women’s doubles semifinal. (Kirilenko and Petrova lost to Vania King and Yaroslava Shvedova 6–7, 6–2, 3–6.) He and Kirilenko exchanged numbers, untroubled by the inconvenience of living thousands of miles and an ocean apart—he in D.C., she in Moscow.
“Our connection was over the phone, over Skype,” Kirilenko said last Thursday in Russian through SI reporter Anastassia Smorodinskaya. “For a long time we didn’t actually see each other, but even with the distance between us, it felt like we had known each other for a long time.”
A little under two years later, the two got engaged while celebrating the new year in Russia.
On Sunday, Maria tweeted out a photo of where her and Ovi first met: at practice court 5 in Flushing Meadows with doubles teammate Nadia Petrova.