Resurgent Jelena Jankovic draws inspiration from Serena Williams

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Jelena Jankovic and Serena Williams shake hands after squaring off in the China Open finals. (MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)

Jelena Jankovic and Serena Williams shake hands after squaring off in the China Open finals. (MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)

ISTANBUL — Of the eight women who qualified for the WTA Championships, no one seemed more pleased to be in Istanbul than Jelena Jankovic. After becoming the 18th player to hold the No. 1 ranking in 2008 and staying among the top 10, the 28-year-old Serb hit a slump falling out of the top 10 in 2011 and then struggling to remain in the top 30 in 2012.

Her slump appeared to continue at the start of 2013, However, Jankovic appointed her brother Marco as her full-time coach, which helped to turn her season around. She returned to the top 10 for the first time since 2011 and is back to compete at her fifth WTA Championships.

“He told me from the beginning that his goal is to bring me back to top 10 and to bring me back to the top,” Jankovic said during her pre-tournament press conference. “So with the hard work, I got new motivation, and [it] gives me great satisfaction that I was able to make it here and that all that hard work has paid off.”

For the first time since 2009, Jankovic has won more than 40 matches in a season, including a title in Bogota earlier this year. She reached the finals of two Premier-level events — the Family Circle Cup and China Open — but both times lost to Serena Williams.

During her reign of consistency at the top of the game, Jankovic was famous for her hatred of practice. From 2004 to 2012 she played in excess of 20 tournaments a year, playing 28 or more four times, because she would rather compete than hone her game during training blocks. Under her brother, that’s changed.

“I have made a lot of mistakes, you know, as far as what has not worked, and I have learned what works for me,” she said. “So now as a 28‑year‑old I can use that to my advantage. I have a lot more knowledge, a lot more experience. I think I can do and show a lot more in my tennis career. So I’m ready to work hard and to show the world some great tennis performances.”

“I love the competition. I love the satisfaction of winning. I love playing against the best tennis players in the world, and that’s what I enjoy. I enjoy spending time on the court, and as well I enjoy spending time on the practice court which was at times not the case. I think without spending time in the practice court or in the gym, you’re not going to be able to perform at high levels.  So now I’m putting in a lot of hard work, and that hard work is paying off.”

Jankovic’s rise to No. 1 in 2008 was a credit to her fitness and consistency, and — much like other number ones at the time, such as fellow Serbian Ana Ivanovic and Dinara Safina — she benefitted from the vacuum left in the women’s game by the sudden retirement of Justine Henin and injuries to Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams. A natural counter-puncher, Jankovic began to slip in 2009 and struggled to adjust to the more physical style of play.

“Of course I know how hard it is to make it to the top 10, to make it to No. 1,” she said. “It’s a lot of hard work, but then I also believe that it’s tougher to stay there. I think every year the game is getting stronger and stronger and more powerful, faster, and I think you have to follow. You have to continue to strive to get better, to improve, to develop your game, to add new things to your game if you’re going to be a player, if you’re going to continue to stay and lead the tennis game, to be one of the top players.

Thankfully for Jankovic she feels as fit as ever. Now up to No. 8, she believes her best tennis is still ahead of her. Her goal now is to break back into the top five next season and she draws inspiration from what she’s seen Serena Williams accomplish this year.

“There was times in the past where I kind of felt like everything is aching and hurting and I feel like I’m getting older. I cannot be up there and all this. I had some doubts. But now at this stage I feel that I can achieve a lot, and I have a lot of belief in myself. I know I can bring a lot more to the table.

“There is no reason for me not to perform at such a high level. So I do not feel old. It shows, like people like Serena, at 32, she’s playing her best tennis and having the best year of her career, and I think that inspires all of us.”

  • Published On Oct 22, 2013

    It's Marko with a k, not Marco. I didn't initially think he was a true coach, but achieving the results this year makes it clear they work well as a team. 

    She not only qualified for Istanbul, but will now face her inspiration in the semifinals. And Jankovic seems to be the only player in the top 8 who isn't completely intimidated by Williams, even when she loses.


    Maybe I'm an old fuddy-duddy, but why isn't the name of the author displayed at the top of the article, and why isn't the date of "publication" shown?  It seems very unprofessional to me.

    With that out of the way, kudos to JJ for her fine comeback this season.  I think it would surprise most people to know that, after Serena, JJ has the second-most 6-0 bagel sets of all the WTA players this year.   

    When she is good, she is very, very good...

    And even when she's not good, she's entertaining.  She has a knack for rubbing people the wrong way at times with her gift for gameswomanship, but her unabashed joie de vivre and her graciousness in both victory and defeat probably inoculate her from too much criticism in the locker room.

    Glitter on, girl!


    I think it’s classy that Jelena speaks of Serena so highly.

    Those of us who watch (and play) a lot of tennis are often faced with the following situation:  A tournament is happening.  We’ve set our device to record the event.  We get home from work and there are multiple matches to watch.  Too many to watch given our time constraints. 

    Which matches do we watch? 

    Which matches do we pay to see when we attend events?

    Jelena Jankovic is the player who is the most interesting to watch.  When Jelena plays, you stop fast forwarding the DVR and you watch.  And enjoy.  I believed that she could get to the year end championship early this year and I believe that not only can she “get to the top 5” but she can dominate.  She is more than capable of going for a long period where she’s the one to beat.  She is one or two adjustments away from having the entire WTA targeting her to knock her off the top spot.  This year a lot of players she lost too have played above their normal level.  Halep – went on to win 5 events.  Petkovic – a turn around win over JJ following last year’s injuries.  Serena – having an outstanding year.    And I could go on.

    Pop quiz:  In the open era of tennis, how many women have had more years in the top 10 than Jelena Jankovc?  I’ll spot you Elena Dementieva, Serena and Martina.  How many?

    After you’ve answered that (factually) you should agree that the article misses a key point about Jelena:  Over time, she’s one of the most consistent top players in tennis history.  There’s a lot of focus on measuring whether she’s #1, but even in the top 10, she’s earning an increasingly rarefied place in tennis history.  My wish for JJ is that she continues to HAVE FUN and that instead of playing with the #1 monkey on her back that she realizes that the body of work in her career gets more impressive every year.  And at 28 she’s still a baby.

    Thanks for the article – it is one of the better ones I’ve read.