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The song “I’m only happy when it rains” could have been written for Jelena Jankovic
She never seems to be able to get through a tournament without having at least two parts of her body strapped up, and appears to be prey to all sorts of physical woes and ailments whenever she steps on court. When she cited “women’s troubles” after a Wimbledon loss, WTA officials quietly winced and gritted their teeth, coming as it did at a time when equal prize money was being hotly debated.
This year, she has had a back injury and a wrist problem which threatened her Fed Cup participation, much to her mother’s chagrin, particularly since the other famous Serbian team member, Ana Ivanovic, chose not to play in a tie which was eventually lost 3-2 to Slovakia. Speaking of her mother, Snezana Jankovic suffered health problems herself last year which were obviously of great concern to her daughter and were partly responsible for a slump in form which saw her exit all four Grand Slams in 2009 before the second week.
Despite a few fitness problems, 2010 has got off to a better start for the Serb. She won in Indian Wells, and with a new and more powerful service in her armoury, she seems to be returning to the kind of form which saw her briefly occupy the world No.1 spot in 2008.
“I’m just playing my tennis and I have already won a big tournament this year,” she said upon arriving in Rome. “I’m looking forward to playing my tennis here and having a good tournament. I feel more experienced now and things are going well for me in this moment. I have a good family and I am happy and I have a nice boyfriend. I have everything that I need in life.”
With no strapping on her arms or legs and nothing to worry her mentally, she stepped onto court against No.11 seed Yanina Wickmayer on Wednesday in determined mood. The 2009 US Open semi-finalist was expected to provide a stiff challenge, but she was never allowed to get out of first gear against a Jankovic who won 75% of her service points – on first and second – saved the only break point she faced and returned with absolute gusto, chasing everything down and moving her opponent left and right at will.
“I played very well today,” she said, showing that her gift for understatement is as good as her forehand. “This is the first time I played against Wickmayer so I didn’t know her game. I really played my tennis and I had the answers for all of her shots. I was always on the ball and I tried to be aggressive and to open the court and finish well. I served very well and I’m very happy with the way I played. I think she is a good player and she has had great results and so, to win like this is great.”
The ease of the win – 6-0, 6-2 in less than an hour – came as a surprise after she had struggled to see off qualifier Bethanie Mattek-Sands in the second round. “I played much better than I did yesterday, which was for me very tough conditions because I played on the outside court and there was a lot of noise from everywhere. You can hear the umpire from the other courts and you think it is from your court, so it was for me difficult to concentrate and my opponent played really well as well. So it was tough at first getting used to the courts. I came from Stuttgart where I was playing on an indoor court and so I had to get used to playing outside. Sun, rain, wind – so many different things that you have to get used to. But things went better and I’m happy I’m in the quarter-finals.”
Mentally, she is on top form, and a cynic might point to the fact that she has just enough physical woes to complain about to maintain her psychological equilibrium. “Here and there I have some aches and pains but this is part of being a professional tennis player and when you wake up in the morning and when you don’t have any pain, you feel “what is going on?”. That is the reality.” Just enough to keep her focussed therefore, as she prepares to face Venus Williams, whom she defeated on the way to her second title here in 2008. Shortly before she became world No.1…