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Championships Profile: Jelena Jankovic
DOHA, Qatar – It is testimony to Jelena Jankovic’s amazing consistency throughout 2008 that she was the first to qualify for the Sony Ericsson Championships, even before she achieved her best ever Grand Slam result as the US Open. Grand Slam success is, after all, the quickest way for a player to propel herself in the Race to the season-ending showcase. But while Jankovic’s efforts this year at the majors – including two semis and that final at Flushing Meadows – are not to be sneered at, the real story was the way she delivered week in, week out at the events that are the backbone of the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour.
The superbly skilled baseliner’s qualification for the Sony Ericsson Championships – her second – was announced in July, the same day as that of fellow Serb, Ana Ivanovic. At that point Jankovic owned 2,770 points, nine more than her compatriot. But by the time her finals run at Flushing Meadows and a three-tournament winning streak late in the season was added to the calculations, the 23-year-old had left all rivals in the dust. Jankovic finished the Race with 4,786 points, ahead of Russia’s Dinara Safina, at 3,823 points.
Although Jankovic collected four titles – matching Safina and Serena Williams – the first didn’t come until May, with successful defense of her Tier I crown at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome. However she made a strong start to the year by reaching the semis at the Australian Open, only to be beaten by eventual champion Maria Sharapova, and by the time Roland Garros (and a grueling semifinal loss to Ivanovic) rolled around, had never failed to reach the quarterfinals. As well as reaching the last eight five times Jankovic made the semis at Dubai and Indian Wells, and was a finalist at Miami – the latter two tournaments both at the Tier I level.
In this context, a fourth round loss to Tamarine Tanasugarn at Wimbledon was a disappointment; not only was Jankovic the No.2 seed, she was a contender for the No.1 ranking following the retirement of Justine Henin. But after a few weeks off it was back to business on the summer’s hardcourt swing. Even then, Jankovic wasn’t the one stealing the headlines though – that had become the job of Safina, who beat her in the semis at Los Angeles and the quarters of the Olympics, and was being talked of as the revelation of the season.
The computer doesn’t lie, however, and on August 11 – on the back of yet another quarterfinal run at Montréal – Jankovic became, at 23 years, 5 months and 13 days, the 18th woman to ascend to the top ranking. “Since I was a young girl it’s been my dream to become No.1 in the world,” she commented at the time. “When you get older, at least one day you can say you were No.1 and no one can take that away from you. You are in the history books and it’s a great achievement.”
Although Ivanovic reclaimed the top spot back a week later, and Serena Williams duly took it after her US Open triumph, Jankovic got it back in early October after winning her second and third titles of year, at the Tier II China Open in Beijing and Porsche Grand Prix in Stuttgart. Victory at the Tier I Kremlin Cup in Moscow the very next week served to underline the charismatic Serb’s growing stature, which an uncharacteristic second round loss to in-form Flavia Pennetta at Zürich could do little to undermine.
If tennis players can be heroes, Jankovic rides into Doha like a character in the John Wayne western, True Grit. She has won more matches this year than any other competitor, compiling a 63-17 record in 21 tournaments, while registering 10 wins against Top 10 ranked opponents. She reached the quarters or better 19 times, and the semis or better 11 times. Regardless of results at the round robin event, she has ensured she’ll finish 2008 as No.1. Indeed, last year at Madrid a worn-out Jankovic failed to win a single match at the season finale. That simply means she now has little in the way of points to defend in Doha – and more to play for than ever before.