Stuttgart. She’ll be the number one player in the world on Monday, but Jelena Jankovic is never one to take herself too seriously. Although very aware of her position as the best player in the world, something she also achieved briefly earlier this year, she is always ready to laugh at herself and the chaos she sometimes leaves in her wake.
Things happen to Jankovic that just don’t happen to other players. One day at the Australian Open she was being driven, she thought, to Melbourne Park for her match. But then she realised she was in fact being driven in the opposite direction, to the practise courts, and she was nearly late for her match. And when she was in Dubai earlier this year she walked into a press conference and, without being asked a single question, she began a 10-minute monologue on being out in the city and getting totally lost. When she finished and stood up to leave the room she was loudly applauded by the assembled media. That just doesn’t happen with anyone else, but Jankovic is different.
One of her funniest stories involved her week at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix a year ago. “That was the funniest story ever,” she said. “I was so tired after a long day and I went back to the hotel and knocked on the door, and all these rooms are next to each other and look the same and I didn’t really pay attention to the number. I knocked and thought my mum was going to open. She opened the door and I just went in. I didn’t even look who it was and when I realised it was Justine (Henin) I asked her what she was doing in my room. And she was ‘What are you doing in MY room?’. It was so funny. It was the first time I’ve seen her laugh. Normally she’s really serious. It was a funny experience.
There are always some stories with me! It’s nice. You have to have fun and enjoy it. If you don’t have fun, if you’re not laughing and enjoying your time, it’s very difficult being around this job. It helps me.”
This year she has been making people laugh again, this time about her adventures in the hotel restaurant. “In our hotel we have a breakfast buffet and a lot of different food, and I just woke up feeling I had to have an Eggs Benedict. They didn’t have it in the buffet so I went to the waiter and asked him to make it. Then the waiter brought this biggest thing ever. It looked like for five people. And I finished it all! And the night before when I was in the Beerfest I ordered two times the duck and all that. They were saying ‘Where does this food go?’ I told them it’s winter time and I need the energy.”
Although she has blisters on her feet and a torn toenail, pretty much routine for any tennis player, Jankovic is far more upbeat this year than last. She has played less events this year and feels the benefit of that. “I feel fresh. I’m not tired like I was last year. I was really exhausted around this time and I didn’t have the motivation to play. I was just waiting to finish the year and rest a little bit because I’d played so many matches. This year it’s a different story. I’m not feeling tired. Actually I feel good and really ready to play and I feel confident, which is the most important thing. Each match that I play I try to improve. I always have a game plan when I play against my opponents and trying to execute my shots and go into the match prepared, tactically and mentally. I’m improving, and of course I can get better and better and this is why I’m working very hard every day, to be fitter as well. I feel a lot better than I did, for example, at the Olympics, when I was coming back from an injury to my knee. I didn’t feel as fast and was completely out of form, and now every day I feel that I’m getting stronger and stronger. When it comes to three-set matches I feel I’m prepared and can play those matches without a problem.”
“It’s a relief,” says Jankovic. “I’m again with a smile on my face and I’m enjoying my tennis. It’s quite difficult. Since the beginning of the year I was travelling with a lot of different injuries and I also got sick around March. I had some bacteria and was always blowing my nose. I was thinking about all these health issues bothering me, and then it’s hard to concentrate on tennis. And also you cannot practise as much as you would like to and have to take many days off. It’s amazing how quickly you get out of shape, and then it takes so much time to get back in form again and get confident. You go backwards, and you have to go forwards again. Staying positive is the most important thing in those times. Now I’m just happy that I’m healthy. All I ask is that I stay like this the rest of the year.”