Thought it would be a good idea to have a seperate thread to post news, articles, etc rather than clogging up some of the other threads.
Playing with fire
Barry Flatman, tennis correspondent, in Melbourne
Jelena Jankovic says that there is more to life than tennis, but is determined to fulfil her potential on court
The hair is raven black rather than the emblematic blonde. The US became a means to a sporting education rather than a new home and an opportunity for a better life. The travelling bags are full of textbooks and the mind is more concerned with matters academic than forehands and backhands. Jelena Jankovic is not the stereotypical tennis prodigy. Yet with vacancies on offer at the top of the women’s game after the retirement of Lindsay Davenport and the imminent departure of Kim Clijsters, the 21-year-old Serb appears to be the new talent most likely to succeed.
Thus far on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour in 2007 she has collected one title in Auckland and should have added another in Sydney, allowing a match point to slip in a tense final against Clijsters. Nevertheless, nine victories from 10 matches this year identify her as the form player going into the Australian Open, which will be devoid of world No 1 Justine Henin-Hardenne.
Three days of rest should be sufficient for the 11th seed to recharge before starting her campaign, and a favourable draw, beginning with a first-round meeting against Canadian Aleksandra Wozniak, suggests she could at least equal her semi-final performance at last year’s US Open. There are other reasons to believe that Jankovic will be a contender when the women’s tournament reaches its climax in 13 days’ time. Six years ago, as Jennifer Capriati was outplaying Martina Hingis in the final, Jankovic became the junior champion and her ability on the Rebound Ace surface was confirmed.
Allowing the Sydney title to slip from her grasp rankled for a while, but she was soon willing to speculate on the future. “I don’t know if a new star is born,” she says with a smile. “Maybe.”
It would be wrong to categorise Jankovic on the basis of this statement and view this daughter of a couple of economists as another self-centred youngster who cares only about her own potential. She is appalled by the mindset of young female tennis players who seem consumed by their own games. She grimaces at the routine followed by so many of focusing totally on the sport and living a continuous cycle of airports, hotel rooms, practice courts and self-analysis.
“I don’t want to be a typical tennis player, who knows how to hit the forehand and backhand but does not think about anything else,” says the girl who did not only have to cope with homesickness when she arrived at Nick Bollettieri’s Florida tennis academy when she was 12 years old. In addition, she had to contend with the fact that Nato bombs were soon falling on her home city of Belgrade and her family were in peril.
“There is much more to life than tennis,” she says “This world is a fascinating place and we travel it all the time, stopping in all the great cities, which each have a story to tell. I look at so many of the other girls and think what opportunities they are wasting. They are tennis all the time and I was doing many other things. I like that balance. When I play, I like to focus, but when I finish, I like to do something else. I need to get my head outside of it and think about something else. I cannot think about tennis from morning until night.
“Other girls on the Tour don’t want to learn about the place they are staying or the culture. They are happy to fill their minds with tennis. That is not for me. I am different from the rest in so many ways. After tennis, I would like to do something as well. I think it’s very important.”
Such an outlook clearly contributes to her ability not to be intimidated by opponents. Last year’s Wimbledon saw her beat defending champion Venus Williams in the third round, while her progress in the US Open provided wins over 2004 winner Svetlana Kuznetsova and Elena Dementieva. The past week has seen her add the names of Hingis, a three-time Australian Open champion, and defending champion Amelie Mauresmo to her list of scalps.
In the same way that her parents view an economic situation, she rationalises her success over such esteemed opposition: “Beating these players is something that must be done if you want to win big titles, but you must not allow yourself to think they are any more special than you. I respect them, but I will not be scared of what they have achieved.”
Yet not so long ago Jankovic seriously considered whether she wanted to continue her tennis career and felt the lure to put more impetus into her studies. She is the only member of her family who is not a traditional academic. Her parents and older brother have degrees, her younger brother is in college and she is in the second year of a course at Megatrend University in Belgrade.
She is keeping her options open. Last spring she was prepared to turn her back on the courts after suffering first-round exits in all but one of her first 10 tournaments. Her enjoyment of the game evaporated, practice became a chore, the pain of defeat all too familiar. Her mind apparently made up, she headed to the city she finds the most inspirational, not to revitalise her competitive spirit but to bring it to a close. Her mother, Snezana (which translates into Snow White in Serbian), accompanied her to Rome and the magic of the Eternal City brought about a change of heart. “Sometimes some things are meant to be,” says Jankovic. “They just happen to change the thoughts and your path of life. Arriving in Rome, I regained my hunger.”
Since then her appetite for competition has been ravenous, and after sessions with a sports psychologist she also enthuses over the powers of positive thinking. If she does win, her joy will be immense, but she will quickly put it into context. “It will just be one very memorable part of my life, but it will not figure in the rest of my life. Always remember I am different to the rest.”
Link to volume 1.