It began in September of 2011, when Ovechkin was in New York City on a preseason press junket for the NHL’s biggest stars. After his interviews and promo shoots were done, he was invited to go to the U.S. Open. Having never been to a tennis match, Ovechkin went to Flushing Meadow on a lark. “Destiny,” he said last week through his signature gap-toothed smile at Washington’s practice facility in Arlington, Va. “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.