Sorry if this was already posted.
Don't discount Jelena just yet
Sunday, September 7, 2008
Posted by Peter Bodo, TENNIS.com
You could be forgiven for wondering if Jelena Jankovic took Saturday's rainout of the U.S. Open women's final less as a chance to get an extra day's rest than as a stay of execution. After all, her opponent in Sunday's final -- Serena Williams -- has been on her game and looking to win her first U.S. Open title in six years.
Six years? How did Serena go six years without winning a U.S. Open singles title? It seems impossible. And therein lies Jelena's problem. Serena is such a towering and imposing figure, that even when she hasn't been winning squat, she seems to be one of, if not the, major presence on the women's tour. And it only gets worse, when she is winning matches, like at this U.S. Open. She's lost just 19 games (if you discount her win over her sister Venus) in this tournament and no sets (even when you include her 7-6 (6),7-6 (7) quarterfinal with Venus). Jelena lost that many in her first two matches.
But I'd dampen down the expectations if you're thinking blowout when the match gets underway because Jelena has never been an easy win for Serena. Their head-to-head is tied at three wins apiece. The most recent of those clashes occurred in the final of Miami in April, on a similar court, and while Serena jumped out to a huge lead on that occasion, Jelena battled back with nerve and verve to make Serena fully earn her 6-1, 5-7,6-3 win. Serena beat Jelena, giving up just five games, in the 2007 Australian Open, but the following year Jelena gave Serena just seven games in the same tournament one round later, in the quarterfinals.
So here's a little secret: if you discount members of the Williams family, Jelena Jankovic may be Serena's most formidable -- and dangerous -- rival. The reason is simple, and it's become more obvious now that Serena is a fully developed 26-year old (Jelena is 23). Jelena is one of the very few players on the tour who can counterpunch and retrieve at the level demanded by Serena's power and shotmaking ability.
So the key issues in the final will be, in this order:
• Will Jelena be able to hold serve? This is a big issue because her serve is attackable and Serena is the kind of player who isn't afraid to return aggressively. It doesn't matter how well Jelena retrieves or how many crowd-pleasing gets she makes (ending with her trademark split). If she can't hold serve, the pressure will be too much.
• Will Jelena be able to keep pace and run down Serena's blazing groundies? As we saw in Jelena's semifinal win over Elena Dementieva, nobody can make you hit the extra ball to win a point better and more threateningly than Jankovic.
• Will Serena's mobility and fitness hold up under the pressure of Jelena's retrieving ability, and the clever strategy in which she happily embraces the chance to play mouse to her opponent's cat?
• Can Jelena deal with the occasion -- this is her first Grand slam final, and a battle for the No. 1 ranking is on the line as well -- without having one of those curious emotional meltdowns she can be prone to when things aren't going her way?
• Can Serena serve big enough to keep Jelena from turning the point into track meets? If Serena can take care of her serve without expending too much energy, she can put extra effort into breaking Jelena -- as well as take more risks against Jelena's serve.
Serena, denied the Wimbledon crown by Venus, seems especially motivated at this event. But Jelena has demonstrated that anyone -- including Serena -- needs more than motivation and a solid game to beat her.