Bouncing on her toes in a backward figure eight step sequence as if bounding over a series of small puddles, Jelena Jankovic was working up a sweat displaying her fast footwork as about a dozen people tried their best to keep up with the World No. 3. Jankovic was clearly the class of this field.
It wasn't the blue U.S. Open court of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, but the hard wood floor of the Reebok Sports Club on 67th Street in New York City where Jankovic was working on her fitness.
The 2006 U.S. Open semifinalist faced a group of journalists in the large workout studio bearing mirrors on all four of its walls with a five-foot poster of Jankovic clad in her purple Reebok dress seemingly monitoring the group from the rear corner as Jankovic and and instructor led a 20-minute full-body fitness session designed to give journalists an idea of Jankovic's off-court training regimen.
Jankovic has spent much of the past year putting her best foot forward in rising from No. 38 in May, 2006 to her current career-high rank of No. 3. She has produced the best season of her career in winning Jankovic has won four tournaments titles on three different surfaces this season, including a pair of Tier I clay-court titles in Charleston and Rome. In a year in which the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour's top 15 has resembled the walking wounded at times with the U.S. Open Series events plagued by pull-outs from top players, Jankovic's attention to fitness has helped her stay healthy and successful. She's reached 13 semifinals in 21 tournaments, including a trip to the French Open semifinals where she fell to familiar nemesis Justine Henin, who has never lost to Jankovic. The pair met again in Sunday's Toronto final with Henin scoring a 7-6(3), 7-5 victory. That match came 11 months after Jankovic was one point away from seizing a 6-4, 5-2 lead in the U.S. Open semifinals only to implode in dropping a 4-6, 6-4, 6-0 decision to Henin, who reached all four Grand Slam finals last year.
This year, the 22-year-old Jankovic will enter the Open as one of the leading contenders for the title. The third-seeded Jankovic opens against Jarmila Gajdosova and could face a quarterfinal against either Wimbledon champion Venus Williams or fellow Serbian Ana Ivanovic.
Jankovic has registered a 62-16 singles record, a 5-11 doubles mark and she showed her versatility in partnering Jamie Murray to capture the mixed doubles championship at last month's Wimbledon. In an effort to devote all of her energy and attention to the singles draw, Jankovic will not play doubles or mixed doubles at next week's U.S. Open, but on this day the personable, perpetually-smiling Serbian was enjoying the group training dynamic.
Prior to the workout, Jankovic unveiled the new Reebok clothes she will wear at the U.S. Open and after concluding the fitness class, she sat down with Tennis Week for this interview. Tennis Week: How does it feel returning to New York after igniting your Grand Slam career reaching the semifinals last year and how does it feel going into the Open as a contender for the title? Jelena Jankovic: I'm excited to come back. New York is one of my favorite cities. And it's a great atmosphere playing at the U.S. Open, it's very electric. I like to go one match at a time and just do my best. I don't really put too much pressure on myself. I just try to enjoy myself and do the best I can. Tennis Week: You won Wimbledon with Jamie Murray, will you be playing mixed or doubles here in New York? Jelena Jankovic: No. I'm going to be focused just on singles because it's the last major of the year and I want to do my best in singles and just focus on singles. It wears me out a lot to play singles, doubles and mixed doubles especially if it's raining then you don't get days off. So I said to Jamie, I won't play mixed doubles here because I want to do well in singles and put all my attention and energy into playing singles. Tennis Week: You've been wearing that white Reebok dress for many tournaments this year. What will you wear at the Open and are you superstitious when it comes to clothes you wear on court, especially if you're on a winning streak with them? Jelena Jankovic: No, I'm not really superstitious. I'm going to be wearing the fuchsia dress at the Open. I love bright colors because I have dark hair I think all the bright colors really suit me like red, purple, yellow, blue. The very, very bright colors is what I like. The dresses Reebok has designed fit me well and the most important thing for me is to feel good in the outfit because if you feel good then you can just concentrate on your game and just enjoy the experience of playing. Tennis Week: Do you feel like a different player now that you've won Tier I titles in Charleston and Rome and that you've been in the French Open and U.S. Open semifinals? Do you feel different, more confident, more capable then the Jelena Jankovic who arrived here last year? Jelena Jankovic: I definitely feel I am more experienced. I feel I am one of the top players. I just go out there and try to do my job. Every time I step on the court I just try to give my maximum no matter who I play against and I try to keep improving. I keep trying to work on my game and on myself. Every day my top goal is to become better than I was yesterday. Working hard is very important. Nothing is ever fully perfect and I think there is always room for improvement. What I'm doing now with the fashion is possible because all the hard work on court is paying off. Tennis Week: What did you think of the workout we did today and in general do you incorporate off-court workouts into your tennis training? Jelena Jankovic: My workouts are also on the tennis court. The way my coach designs my training he moves me around the court a lot, I do a lot of running on the court. I do a lot of stretching and endurance on the court and then I like to go to the gym to try to get stronger and it's very important to keep your body in shape to try to prevent injuries and so that you feel better about yourself in your own mind. So the off court training is important for staying healthy. Tennis Week: You play a pretty extensive schedule and you have not been injured too much. What do you think about all of the injuries we're seeing on the WTA Tour this year and is shortening the schedule with the Roadmap Plan in 2009 the solution to reducing the injuries? Jelena Jankovic: I don't know. I really don't know the answer. I played a lot this year. I won more matches than I have before. I actually won 50 matches faster than anyone since Chris Evert so I feel very lucky that I've been healthy and I haven't had any injuries that put me out for a long time. I feel very lucky, but I try to work hard. But even working hard, sometimes you cannot avoid injuries. If you try to do exercises and work areas of your body that are weak then that can help you. Also, having the endurance helps you in the third set because you're not wondering if you can keep up with your opponent and keep going in the third set, you know that you can. I don't have to lose matches because I wasn't ready physically, when I lose matches it's because maybe the other girl played great or I didn't play great or it wasn't the right strategy, but not because I was not physically ready. So that's what I try to do: I try to go out for every single match knowing I am physically prepared to play. Tennis Week: What do you do in your spare time in New York when you're not playing tennis? Jelena Jankovic: I'm a shopaholic. I love to shop all the time. I look for my schedule when I can go out and do some shopping (laughs). I love to go all over, every place. I love looking feminine. I love dresses, depending on the occasion of course. So during the day I might be wearing jeans of course, but I love wearing high heels. As soon as I step off the court, I want to wear high heels. I feel good in them, but everybody says I don't walk so well in them like I'm going to fall (laughs). I love to go to the spas too and just enjoy them and relax. I love going to the beach and hanging out with friends. I do what all girls my age do, I'm not any different from them except that I play tennis. Tennis Week: Have you already planned your vacation spot for when the season ends? Jelena Jankovic: I tend to like these exotic places where no one knows me and I don't know everyone. I love to go somewhere exotic with someone that I really love and just have fun and enjoy it and have a really good time. Tennis Week: What are your hobbies outside of tennis? Jelena Jankovic: I actually have my own little line that's sold only in Serbia. It's called "JJ", my initials. Maybe I will try to do a winter collection too if I have time that will be nice. I do drawings for the designs and my mom gives me suggestions and we kind of work together. It's feminine, sophisticated with a lot of dresses. It's elegant.