BOTTOM LINE – Workload reduced: 24%
Believe it or not, Jelena Jankovic has cut back on how much she plays – just 84 singles matches this year, compared to a whopping 97 last year. Add in the fact that she played only three doubles matches in 2008, down from 17 last year, and she’s cut her total by almost 25 percent.
She still plays a lot, but contrary to popular perception, Jankovic is no longer the undisputed workhorse of the tour. A year ago, she contested 20 more matches than any other woman. This season, she was outpaced by Vera Zvonareva, who took part in 87 singles and 25 doubles matches. Jankovic was not the tour leader in effectiveness either: Her singles winning percentage (77.4 percent) is only the fourth-best among the Top 10, and nowhere close to Justine Henin’s 94 percent from 2007.
But what Jankovic has done is strike a balance between quality and quantity — she played more than those who played at a higher level, and she played better than those who played more consistently. That was enough to secure her the year-end No. 1 ranking for 2008. She’s the ninth woman in history to achieve that feat and the first, as her critics are quick to point out, to do so without having won a Grand Slam event title. Jankovic ascended to No. 1 by playing consistently well; she has played more tennis than those who have played at a higher level, and she has played better than those who have played more consistently. And after a dozen three-setters and many more injury timeouts, the emotive Jankovic has also established herself as the tour’s drama queen.
Jankovic’s ascension to No. 1 at the beginning of August was an accident of history. Had Henin not retired and asked for her name to be taken off the rankings, Jankovic would not have reached the top spot for a week in August – and therefore she would have been spared the dubious distinction of being the only player to reach No. 1 without ever having made it past a Grand Slam semifinal.
But by the time the counterpunching Serb reached No. 1 “for real” in October, she had reached the U.S. Open final and was in the midst of a three-tourney winning streak.
While Serena Williams is many people’s pick for player of the year, Jankovic has at least proven to be the tour’s most durable competitor. Her lead in the rankings is roughly equivalent to the number of points a player gets for a Grand Slam title. The next step? Actually winning one.
To-do list: A Grand Slam crown for the drama queen.