Jelena Jankovic. How do I even begin to describe Jelena Jankovic?
I first became acquainted with Jelena Jankovic seven years ago, when she still wore Reebok. From January to May 2006, Jankovic lost ten straight matches and considered quitting the sport to study at university. She turned her year, and arguably her career, around with a run to the semifinals of the US Open that year. Little did we know, this was just the beginning of Jankovic’s flair for the dramatics.
She found her way to the top of the rankings in 2008 with the polarizing figure of Ricardo Sanchez by her side. In fact, many would consider Jankovic a polarizing figure herself. Some found her diva antics and blunt humor amusing, while others found her brash and self-centered. She was the subject of a Serbian documentary about her life that same year, aptly titled Jelenin svet (Jelena’s World). While she was at the top of the game, that was almost how it felt; it was Jelena’s world, and we were just living in it.
However, in 2009, it all began to go wrong. Jankovic looked to “bulk up” in the offseason in an attempt to change her game to challenge for major titles. Jankovic was upset by Marion Bartoli in the fourth round in Melbourne that year; Bartoli hit 34 winners, compared to Jankovic’s 17 and won 81% of her first serve points, compared to Jankovic’s 56%. As a result, Jelena lost the No. 1 ranking to Serena Williams. She ended 2009 and 2010 at No. 8, but the ranking slide was quick from there. 2011 marked her first non-top 10 season since 2006 while 2012 was the first time she ended the year outside the world’s top 20 since 2005.
Jankovic comes into this year’s Australian Open seeded No. 22. She faced off against Johanna Larsson in the opening round, and despite a convincing 6-2, 6-2 scoreline, the match was anything but. Jankovic hit 16 winners to 23 errors in her opener, while the Swede hit a paltry six winners to go with a staggering 36 errors.
Qualifier Maria Joao Koehler, who impressed in a 7-5, 6-1 first round loss to Kim Clijsters a year ago in her Grand Slam main draw debut, came out firing en route to building a *4-1 lead in the first set. Jankovic would take a medical timeout on that change of ends, the first of many subplots throughout the match. She left the court for treatment, and returned with her entire abdomen taped.
Nothing would stop the momentum from the lefty from Portugal, who hit more winners than Jankovic in the opening set and benefitted from the Serb’s 17 unforced errors; Koehler would take the opener 6-2 in 41 minutes. Jankovic was close to tears early on in the second set, whether it was the injury, her poor play or both. Midway through, she began to crack some of her trademark backhands-down-the line with some authority but continued to trail for the majority of the set. Koehler was two points away from victory at *5-4 in the tiebreak, but Jankovic would win three points in a row to level the match at a set apiece.
The pair would trade breaks to open the third set, but this time it was Jankovic who would benefit from Koehler’s erratic play; the 20-year-old hit just two winners and a whopping 20 unforced errors in the third set to give Jankovic a 2-6, 7-6(5), 6-2 victory.
Jankovic was always good at finding a way to win matches when not playing her best. Despite that, this isn’t the Jelena Jankovic who came to be known as one of the most unique personalities on the WTA Tour over the past half-decade; she’s become a shell of the player she once was. One of the WTA’s masters of engaging the crowd when she was at her peak, Jankovic appeared to do anything but embrace the crowd’s support in this match. She’s been going through the motions for a long time now, and her days of a contender for major tournaments seem to be behind her. Jankovic hasn’t been enjoying herself on the court for a while, and it’s sad to see.
She’ll take on Ana Ivanovic in the third round, and if this were 2008, I’d say that match was highly anticipated. But this is 2013, and both are a world away from contending for major titles as they once were.
By Maud Watson
At the Apex – Dane Caroline Wozniaki has reached the pinnacle of the WTA Rankings, and it will be interesting to see how she is perceived in the weeks to come. Like some of the other recent No. 1’s such as Safina and Jankovic, she has reached the top without a Slam to her name. But while it may not pan out this way, Wozniaki seems as though she’s more in the vein of a Mauresmo or Clijsters, who also reached the top ranking before going on to win their Grand Slam titles. Besides, Slam or no Slam, Wozniaki deserves the No. 1 ranking the same as Safina and Jankovic did when they held it. History will remember more those who won the majors, but finding a way to stay healthy and having the mental fortitude to perform consistently at a high level week in and week out is a great achievement in and of itself, and there should be no qualms if that achievement is rewarded with the top ranking in the game.
Breakthrough – The 2010 season is winding down, and many in the tennis world are already anxiously looking forward to 2011. But for Spaniard Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, the best moment of his season, and indeed, perhaps of his career, came last week in Bangkok. He recorded his first win over a current world. No. 1, defeating compatriot Rafael Nadal in three sets. Garcia-Lopez showed nerves of steel in his victory, having to save 24 of 26 breakpoints to see himself across the finish line. Impressively, he didn’t suffer the let down that so many do after such a big win, taking out the man from Finland, Jarkko Nieminen, in three close sets to secure the title. This could be a flash in the pan, but such a week could give Garcia-Lopez and his fans even more of a reason to look toward the 2011 season.
Early Exit – More players are calling time on their 2010 seasons in an effort to get healthy going into 2011. Svetlana Kuznetsova has been suffering from an illness that has prevented her from playing at her top form. Unable to practice or work on her fitness, the Russian veteran has smartly opted to close the curtain for the time being in order to allow her body to rest and recharge for next year. The situation for Aggie Radwanska is unfortunately more serious. The young Pole is suffering from a stress fracture in her foot, and as she correctly pointed out, it is a tricky injury. She is unsure if she will be prepared to play the Australian Open next January. Fingers crossed she’s able to make it, as unlike so many of the game’s current stars, Radwanska brings an entertaining game of cunning tactics and touch to the court. As for the elder Williams sister, she is still struggling with a niggling knee injury. Venus hasn’t alluded to the injury being a threat to her chances to go for her first title Down Under, and as a young 30, pocketing another Slam or two isn’t out of the question. Finally, Spaniard Juan Carlos Ferrero has been forced to undergo both wrist and knee surgery, and will need the next two months to rehab and get healthy. It would be a cruel twist of fate if Ferrero is unable to bounce back from these injuries given the admirable turnaround he has done this year as far as his career and ranking are concerned. Hope to see all of these players in full flight next season.
The Great Compromise – Not so long ago, it was announced that the powers-at-be in the ATP were looking at the possibility of shortening the length of the season by 2-3 weeks. As the starting date of the Aussie Open wasn’t set to move, speculation was that a shortened season would also mean the axing of a few ATP events. But ATP CEO Adam Helfant has put that speculation to rest, stating that no tournaments would be lost should the ATP shorten its season. Undoubtedly some tournament directors are breathing a slight sigh of relief, though no cutting could mean stacking another tournament or two within a week, which means more competition to secure the best field, but it’s better than being wiped off the map completely. Hats off to Helfant if he’s able to find a way to make all parties happy.
Grunt Work – In a study performed at the University of British Columbia and the University of Hawaii, the Public Library of Science put out their findings showing that there’s a good chance that those players who grunt (or shriek as the case may be) actually gain an edge on their quieter opponents. The study’s findings suggest that “the presence of an extraneous sound interfered with participants’ performance, making their response both slower and less accurate.” More research into this subject will have to be done, but hopefully the ITF is taking a hard look at this. Particularly in the case of some of the louder shriekers on the WTA Tour, things have gotten out of hand. It’s an annoyance to the fans and takes away from the game. Plus, given how far things have come since Monica Seles, recent history would also suggest the problem will only get worse as this ugly trend is allowed to continue. One hopes that similar studies to the one conducted by the Universities of British Columbia and Hawaii will give the ITF the evidence that they need to start taking more action.