“No, but I was worried about getting my dress really dirty,” says Jelena “Jelly” Jankovic, a tourist from Serbia clad in a lemon yellow tennis frock.
Had she been hit by a bus? Nothing that ordinary in the big city. Actually she was running as though she were trying to catch a departing bus, chasing instead a nifty hit, a deft drop shot from the racket of a troublesome Swede named Sofia Arvidsson.
These two were engaged in a second round jam of the U.S. Open at Flushing Meadow, and the 24-year-old Swede, though ranked No. 63, was giving No. 2, Jankovic, a very hard time. Reaching desperately, vainly for the ball, Jelly tumbled. She was down. She stayed down. Seconds ticked by. Had the Swede provoked an Ingmar Bergman-esque scene of tense drama? More seconds slipped past, more than 30 of them. You expected umpire Dianna Kondratowitch-Pierce to climb down from her highchair and count Jankovic out. Was this prolific collector of injury withdrawals (11) and loser of mid-match TKOs (11) adding to her long string of mishaps?
Ah, no. The canny battler was just resting – “I was tired and couldn’t get up” — thinking over her dire deep third set situation. “I would like to take a nap. I was exhausted.”
Meanwhile Arvidsson burned, waiting to serve out the eighth game.
It apparently was the flop that refreshes. Even though Arvidsson hung tough to 5-5 in the midst of sturdy baseline line-driving, Jankovic pierced her in the last game for a 6-3, 6-7 (5-7), 7-5, victory. It took 2 hours 45 minutes on a gorgeous, balmy afternoon.
Jankovic said it ended just in time. “I was lucky. After I finished I went to jog a little on the treadmill. We do that to get all the lactic acid from your muscles and feel better. After three minutes, I cramped. Couldn’t bend my leg. I couldn’t have finished the match. The ideal is to run 10 minutes after a match that long.”
Arvidsson told Swedish journalists she wasn’t too happy with Jankovic’s performance.
Jelly answered that with, “If she’s angry at me for going down…these things happen in a match…we try our best to win the match. And a win is the most important thing.”
A scrapper, Jelly has a history of squelching match points. Knee and forearm problems have bothered her lately, but she says that’s past, and she’s whole, but has to get in better shape. “I hope I can get into the second week. It’s mental as much as physical. It all needs work.”
So here are the two Belles of Belgrade peering at each other from the far ends of the draw – 20 year old Ana Ivanovic up high at No. 1, 23-year-old Jankovic down low at No. 2 – yearning to advance all the way to collide in the final a week from Sunday. That would be a first: two Serbs in a major title bout.
For one week earlier this month Jelly was No. 1, then shoved aside by Ivanovic. “You know,” she says, “I was No. 1 in the world. By doing that I achieved one huge goal in my career, in my life, and it’s something amazing. I would love to come back to that position. But I need to lift my level. I’m trying real hard, but because I had so many injuries I had a tough time.”
But a tougher time for the dark-haired happy-go-lucky Jelly was early in 2006. She was very unlucky, losing in first round after first round. Ten times. She was ready to pack it in and retreat to university.
It worked, and her career turned around in a city of faith, Rome, with a quarter-final performance at the Italian Open. She has since won it, in 2007-08.
Flat on her face, not a flattering pose, Jelly was shutting out the world that she lusts to conquer. Presently up and bright, she took the second steps to No. 1.
I don’t know if her lemon yellow dress got smudged. But there are dry cleaners.
August 27 2008 02:02 pm | US Open