JELENA JANKOVIC: GRAND PLANS FOR ANOTHER SHOT AT SLAM SUCCESS
Tennis is often an unkind sport. You can come close many times, yet still not achieve one of the sport’s biggest honours – winning a Grand Slam. Andy Murray can certainly tell you how that felt like before finally winning that elusive Major in New York a few months ago.
For Jelena Jankovic, one US Open final and five other semi-finals in Grand Slams were more than enough to give her the sense of how capable she is of coming agonisingly close to winning a Major, yet how tough it is to take that final step.
The former world No1 is in Dubai, doing some pre-season training and believes her Grand Slam hopes are far from over.
“I was a finalist of the US Open, I played many semi-finals – French Open, Australian Open, US Open. I’d like to make that one step further and win a Grand Slam,” Jankovic told Sport360° on the sidelines of the 15th Al Habtoor Tennis Challenge.
“I won it in mixed doubles, I won it as a junior. I was No1 junior in the world when I was 15, I won the junior Australian Open.
“So that’s a goal and a dream of mine to win a Grand Slam. I’ve been No1 in the world and won many tournaments, but that’s (Grand Slam win) something that I’d like to achieve in my career.
“You always have to believe, if I could be in the final and the semi-finals, why not win it? It’s only one or two matches away, so if I could get that far then I can win.
“The only difference between winning other tournaments and winning a Grand Slam is that you last two weeks and you have to win seven matches instead of five. You have to be mentally tough and ready to do it.”
Famous for her flexibility and her incredible court coverage, Jankovic was a constant fixture in the world’s top-five for five consecutive seasons but has now slipped to No22 after a mixed season where she made the second week in only one of the four Slams – the Australian Open – and made two finals in Dallas and Birmingham, along with three semi-final showings, and lost both her matches in the Fed Cup final to the Czech Republic.
She hasn’t won a title since her remarkable run at Indian Wells in 2010. But the 27-year-old says she’s training hard in Dubai, hoping to get back to her familiar place amongst the world’s best players.
She says: “It’s very difficult to be at the top of the game and I’ve been able to be in the top 10 for five consecutive years. It’s a lot of hard work and dedication, and also during those five years I was very fortunate that I didn’t have any big injuries. So I was able to compete at a very high level and train hard to sustain that level in order to be up there.
“Right now I’m No22 in the world, I would love to get back to the top 10. I’m here in Dubai training very hard. I just started three days ago. I had some time off after the Fed Cup final. I went to see my family and spent some time with my friends and at home and now I’m just starting my pre-season and getting ready for 2013.”
Although the Fed Cup was barely three weeks ago, Jankovic admits getting back to the rhythm of training is not the easiest of things to do.
She added: “It’s not easy. I enjoyed my time off just doing nothing. And now I have to wake up early again, and be on schedule. It’s amazing how quickly we lose the form. I get tired so quickly now. I have to get back in shape. But little by little. I’m not in a rush, it’s going to be a process.”
This is the first time Jankovic is spending her off season in Dubai, but she is no stranger to the city. The WTA website states her residence as Dubai, and she was here during the weeks leading up to the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships as well as before the Asian swing.
“I love it here in Dubai, it’s the best preparation you can have before the Australian Open because of the weather and all the facilities. The courts, the gym, the people are very nice, they’re very welcoming. I feel very good here,” she says.
“And I have great memories, especially winning the Habtoor tournament almost 10 years ago.
“It was the beginning of my professional career, that’s where my journey had started. I’m very happy to see other players now playing in it.”
Having turned pro 12 years ago, Jankovic is considered a Tour veteran and even though men’s tennis appears to feature many top players who are over 30, in women’s tennis, the Serb knows she belongs to the grown-up group of players even though she still feels fresh and retirement is not on her mind.
She says: “I’m now 27 years old and when I was No1, I was maybe 22 or 23. So when you see some other girls who are 20 years old, I’m already considered as a veteran.
“Our tennis careers are not long, and I think in women’s tennis it’s shorter. It’s very difficult on our bodies but I still have some years to go if my body is in good shape. As long as I’m enjoying it, I’ll keep playing.”
LIFE ON THE TOUR:
2004 – Her first WTA title, in Budapest
2006 – Made her first Grand Slam semi-final at the US Open
2007 – Became the first Serbian player to win a Grand Slam title when she won the Wimbledon mixed doubles title with British partner Jamie Murray
2008 – Reached her only Grand Slam singles final. Lost to Serena Williams in a fantastic match at the US Open.
Became No1 in the world and held the spot for 17 weeks.
Favourite thing about being a pro tennis player? I get the chance to travel the world and learn about different cultures and meet different people. I love winning, the satisfaction you get from it, and playing in front of big crowds.
Least favourite thing about being a pro tennis player? Spending time on the plane, jetlag, time differences, not sleeping in my own bed. Being away from family and friends because of constant travel. But that’s the job I chose to do and a tennis career is not so long and you just enjoy it. But I don’t complain.