This post originally appeared at Tennis Grandstand.
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.
Ricardo Sanchez has always been one of the WTA’s more colorful characters. From “Stopwatchgate” in Stuttgart 2008, where he heckled Venus Williams for taking too much time between points, to the Tokyo drama last season, he’s built up quite an infamous reputation. His latest interview, conducted in Spanish, gives Sanchez’s take on working with Jelena Jankovic, Caroline Wozniacki and most recently, Nadia Petrova; Sanchez says he and Petrova decided to mutually part ways for this season and still have a nice relationship.
Some of the best bits:
On the idea that Petrova is difficult to work with and is not popular on tour:
Nadia is a woman from the East and each has a different character. She’s very quiet, but when she opens up to people, she is a spectacular person…Nadia is not a person who opens to the whole world, but when she does, she gives her heart and friendship.
On his failed coaching venture with Wozniacki:
At this moment, a qualified coach for her does not exist, because father and daughter have a very special chemistry…I do not believe Piotr had the capacity to leave his daughter alone with me, so it did not work out.
Had he been able to work with Wozniacki without issue:
This year, she would have certainly remained in the top five and could have won a Grand Slam…Serena, Azarenka, Sharapova, Radwanska and Petrova are playing better than Caroline. They have far more resources and Wozniacki, at the present time, has a more defensive game.
On Maria Sharapova:
For me…she has not improved in the last three years. This year at Roland Garros…everybody lost and instead there was Errani, who is inexperienced in such games. I have great respect for Sharapova and believe she and Serena are very good for tennis.
On his oldest charge, Jankovic:
If Jankovic calls me and tells me: ‘Richi, grab a plane and we’ll go through the circuit the two of us alone,’ tomorrow, I go where she is.
On the drama in Spanish women’s tennis:
Of course I would [like to be Spanish Fed Cup captain.] If you leave me to my work, in three or four years, Spanish women’s tennis would improve.
On possibly coaching on the ATP:
I would not mind, but on the women’s tour I am at the level of the five best coaches in the world…I have spoken with [Verdasco] and his father several times.
Sanchez is quite observant regarding the goings on with the WTA, and despite his loose cannon of a mouth, many of the things he says in this interview are both thoughtful and correct. Nonetheless, Sanchez’s narcissism is one of his biggest personality traits, and while I wouldn’t go so far as to anoint him as ‘one of the top five’, he *is* a good coach. He got Petrova to play her best tennis in arguably six years at the end of 2012 and was largely the driving force behind all of Jankovic’s success – success that she hasn’t found again.
Czech Republic vs. Serbia: O2 Arena, Prague, Czech Republic
Czech Republic: Petra Kvitova, Lucie Safarova, Andrea Hlavackova, Lucie Hradecka (Sub: Klara Zakopalova)
Serbia: Ana Ivanovic, Jelena Jankovic, Bojana Jovanovski, Aleksandra Krunic
It’s that time of year again – the 2012 Fed Cup final is upon us. The 2012 edition will pit the defending champions, the Czech Republic against Serbia, who are making their first appearance in the Fed Cup finals.
The x-factor in this tie is Petra Kvitova. The World No. 8, who went 2-0 in the Fed Cup final in 2011, has had a somewhat disappointing year plagued by injuries and illness following her breakout year in 2011. Kvitova, who was forced to withdraw from the WTA Championships as defending champion after just one match with bronchitis, was not cleared to practice by her doctors until Wednesday. When healthy, Kvitova is a force indoors – her loss to Radwanska at the WTA Championships was her first loss on indoor hard courts in more than a year.
Due to the question marks surrounding Kvitova, much of the pressure for the hosts falls on the shoulders of Lucie Safarova. Safarova will open singles play on Saturday against Ana Ivanovic, who she leads 3-2 in head-to-head meetings. Safarova has won three straight matches against Ivanovic, the last coming in the quarterfinals in Sydney in January. Her head-to-head against Jelena Jankovic is a much different story, as the Serb hold a 5-1 advantage. It’s going to be crucial to Czech hopes for Safarova to get them off to a good start in the opening match.
The Serbian squad is not without their own issues. Ivanovic is entering the tie suffering from lingering right hip issues, an injury she sustained in her final tournament of the year in Moscow. Despite the injury, Ivanovic is coming off her best season in singles since 2008; she reached the quarterfinals at the US Open, her first appearance at that stage since winning Roland Garros in 2008. She will also finish the year ranked World No. 12, her highest ranking since dropping out of the top 10 in 2009. And Jankovic? Sometimes I wonder if Jelena is really a tennis player anymore. Jankovic did not win a title in 2012, nor did she make it past the fourth round at any Grand Slam. However, Jelena tends to show up for Fed Cup. She’s 3-0 in her Fed Cup matches this year, and was just awarded her second Fed Cup Heart Award.
If the tie comes down to the doubles, no doubt the Czechs would have the advantage. Hlavackova/Hradecka won the 2011 French Open title, and were runners-up at Wimbledon, the US Open and the Year-End Championships in 2012. They also took home a silver medal at the London Olympics, as they fell to the Williams sisters in straight sets. While Serbia has Krunic/Jovanovski listed on paper, Dejan Vranes could also go with Krunic/Jankovic. Hlavackova and Hradecka are the #3 and #4 doubles players in the world while Krunic is ranked #335 and Jovanovski is ranked #1067. Despite all odds, I think this rubber could be the most interesting of them all.
Regardless of her partner, Aleksandra Krunic has to see action at some point in this tie. The 19-year-old Krunic is a bit of a Fed Cup wonder; while she’s struggled in a sense to make her breakthrough on the WTA tour (she’s currently ranked 167 and made her first WTA quarterfinal in Baku this year, losing to….Jovanovski), she’s shone brightly when thrust into the pressure cooker of Fed Cup. What Krunic lacks in size, as she can’t be taller than 5’4”, she makes up for in heart and incredible doubles prowess. Her reactions are my favorite thing in tennis. Krunic and Jovanovski have vastly out-performed their doubles rankings in high-pressure Fed Cup situations. Observe.
Exhibit A: Krunic and Jovanovski led a Jankovic and Ivanovic-less Serbia past Canada in the 2011 World Group II Quarterfinal, securing Serbia’s place in the World Group Playoffs last year.
Exhibit B: Krunic (partnering Jankovic) singlehandedly saved two match points in what became a 26 75 97 win over Slovakia in the deciding rubber of the World Group Playoffs in 2011 on the road.
Krunic and Jovanovski also clinched victory for Serbia over Belgium in the 2012 World Group First Round with a 76(2) 46 61 win over Wickmayer/Van Uytvanck, also on the road.
If I’m Vranes, I’d go out on a limb and stick with Krunic and Jovanovski. Granted, they’ve never been in *this* big of a situation before, but the pair have clinched two ties for this team in the past 18 months. Considering Serbia is a huge underdog in the doubles rubber anyway, how can it hurt?
One of Wimbledon’s many glorious traditions is the annual WTA players’ party, which takes place on the Thursday before the tournament begins. There is no tennis to tear apart until Sunday, so we can slam the outfits instead! Presenting: Your Obligatory WTA Fashion Police Blog Post!
The defending champion continues to shine when given the chance. After being thrust into the public eye following her Wimbledon win in 2011, the soft-spoken Czech has embraced her outer sparkle off the court.
As we know, the only reason why Jelena even bothers to play tennis these days is for extra spending money, clothes and parties. She can’t even do that right anymore.
Venus and Serena Williams
Venus and Serena’s fashion choices over the past decade have sometimes wowed us, and other times, have left us scratching our heads. Both opted for classic options, but the jury’s still out on the hair.
Maria Sharapova doing what Maria Sharapova does with commanding presence as always. She wouldn’t look out of place on a Hollywood red carpet. Bonus points for the shoes.
— kutzna irawan (@tkuzna) June 22, 2012
Azarenka, who also opts for casual looks at these events more often than not
(yes, that debacle at Indian Wells excluded), sports a new layered hairdo to go with her trusty black leggings.
If you’re experiencing deja vu, don’t fret! I am too. Wozniacki sported a similar off the shoulder black dress and up-do at last year’s players’ party. Stella, get the girl another look, stat.
Take me to your leader. China’s first Grand Slam champion rocks the makeup and hair as always, but I do wonder if the dress picks up radio signals. Or at one time sustained alien life.
Ivanovic, unlike her compatriot Jankovic, never fails to disappoint. Although this picture does. The only negative of this dress was the fringed monstrosity on the bottom that I’ve spared you from seeing. Thank me later.
Radwanska rocking a simple, black floor length gown. Although, if I were her, I’d lose the number of Kuznetsova’s hair dresser.
The Russian knocks it out of the park, and the dress really brings out her eyes. My winner for sure.
Fed Cup time is the best time, and this is why. On the eve of the World Group semifinals and playoffs, observe typical team bonding activities.
Bojana Jovanovski, Jelena Jankovic and Aleksandra Krunic form a less than intimidating biker gang.
Johanna Larsson and Sofia Arvidsson already booked their tickets to the gun show. Put ‘em up, ladies.
Flavia Pennetta reveals her master plan to help Italy to victory against the Czechs – puppeteering the hosts to do her bidding from the bench. Roberta Vinci approves.
Andrea Petkovic, returning to compete for Germany after a back injury, realizes why alternative dance therapy was a bad idea. Mona Barthel tried to tell her, but she wouldn’t listen.
(Photos: Fed Cup)
Russia vs. Serbia: Sports Palace “Megasport” – Moscow, Russia
Russia – Elena Vesnina, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Maria Kirilenko, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
Serbia- Jelena Jankovic, Ana Ivanovic, Bojana Jovanovski, Aleksandra Krunic
With the absence of World #2 Maria Sharapova, and World #10 Vera Zvonareva sidelined with an injury, Russia’s hopes for the tie lie with World #21 Maria Kirilenko. Kirilenko has had a quietly successful year in singles, highlighted by a runner-up finish in Pattaya City (l. to Hantuchova) and a quarterfinal showing in Indian Wells (l. to Sharapova). Somewhat shockingly, however, Russian captain Shamil Tarpischev has elected to leave her out of the opening day in singles. Instead, he will turn to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Svetlana Kuznetsova. Both, particularly Pavlyuchenkova, have not shown stellar form this year, and Tarpischev is taking a huge gamble on the opening day. Kuznetsova, a team stalwart, has played in 15 career Fed Cup ties and this is her second tie this year, having helped her team defeat Spain in the opening round. Russia also possess strong prowess in doubles, as Kirilenko is currently ranked #7 in the discipline. Elena Vesnina, currently ranked #11, has been ranked in the top 10 in doubles, and Kuznetsova has won two career Grand Slams in doubles, including at the Australian Open earlier this year partnering Zvonareva.
Serbia will have both their marquee players headlining their squad, as former World #1’s Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic will be playing their first tie this season. However, both are surrounded by question marks coming into Moscow. Ivanovic, who has experienced a resurgence in form this season, reached the fourth round at the Australian Open (l. to Kvitova). However, despite these successes, she has reportedly split with coach Nigel Sears. Jankovic, on the other hand, is far from her best form; despite reaching the semifinals in Copenhagen last week (l. to Kerber), she has lost in her opening round three times this season, including in Indian Wells and Miami. The burden will not solely be on the veteran’s shoulders, as youngsters Bojana Jovanovski and Aleksandra Krunic have already proven themselves capable of competing at the highest level in the team competition. The two rallied the team from 2-1 down against Belgium in the opening round earlier this year; Jovanovski won her 2nd singles match and then teamed with Krunic to clinch the deciding doubles tie.
Russia leads Serbia 3-0 in the career head to head, and the last meeting was a 3-2 victory for the Russians in the 2010 World Group first round.
Czech Republic vs. Italy: CEZ Arena – Ostrava, Cezch Republic
Czech Republic – Lucie Hradecka, Lucie Safarova, Petra Kvitova, Andrea Hlavackova
Italy - Roberta Vinci, Flavia Pennetta, Francesca Schiavone, Sara Errani
Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova will be leading the Czech squad at home against a veteran Italian team. Because of injury and illness, the World #3 has only played three matches since the Czechs defeated Germany in their opening match in the World Group in February. She has, however, won 27 consecutive matches on indoor hard courts, explaining the choice of surface and venue for the hosts. Safarova, a stalwart in the top 30 for the past few seasons, is coming off a run to the finals in Charleston (l. to Serena Williams) and has been in decent form to start the season. Kvitova and Safarova will be expected to play singles for the host nation, while defending French Open champions Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka are on tap for the doubles rubber.
Italy, the Fed Cup champions in 2006, 2008, 2009 and 2010, are in a state of flux entering the semifinals. Both Schiavone and Vinci have been struggling to find form this season, while Sara Errani has established herself as one of the breakout players of the 2012 season. Errani, a two-time title winner already on the WTA this season, also made the quarterfinals of the Australian Open (l. to Kvitova). Italian captain Corrado Barazzutti will have to rely heavily on Errani in this tie, as she has been tapped to play singles behind Francesca Schiavone. She and Roberta Vinci have also been selected for doubles; they have partnered for three WTA doubles titles this season, and were runners-up at the Australian Open.
The head-to-head is 4-3 in favor of the Czechs, however, Italy has won three in a row. The last meeting between these two teams came in 2012, where Italy swept aside the Czechs, 5-0 in the semifinals. “It will be good revenge,” Kvitova remarked about the tie. “Last time when played against them we lost 5-0, so it wasn’t really a good result and we have bad memories from this.”
(Photos & quotes: Fed Cup)