Monday, May 21, 2007

Wk.20- There's Something About Jelena

"There's Something About Mary," but there's something about Jelena, too.

With the Top 10-ranked Serbs surging to new and more impressive heights seemingly each and every week of late, it appears that a pecking order has developed. Jelena Jankovic made sure of that. A week after Ana Ivanovic took a big step by matching Jankovic's own 2Q Tier I title in Charleston with one of her own in Berlin, Jankovic took it upon herself to add another to her '07 ledger in Rome.

It's quite the competition these two are putting on. A miniature version of the you-top-me, I'll-top-you battle amongst the Russians in recent seasons.

Jankovic was "The Other Jelena" when Jelena Dokic (whom JJ just matched with her second Tier I win and career-best #4 ranking) was making her brief run near the top of the women's game, but it's difficult to relegate her to the backseat against hardly anyone (well, thre IS one person... but more on that in a moment) in '07, including the other half of the two-headed, one-nation tennis monster known as the Rakija Girls.

While there are still some niggling wonders about whether or not AnaIvo is ready to become a star on the grand slam stage, the same might not be said for Jankovic. It's a good thing, too, since her moment might be about to arrive in Paris.

But can she grab it?

Roland Garros has played host to a litany of grand slam coming out parties over the years, with first-time slam champs cropping up there more often than in the other three major tournaments. But RG has been a fickle mistress, as well, since just as many who've come to Paris fully expecting their "moment" to be within reach, or who suddenly found themselves presented with an unexpected opportunity, have failed to emerge victorious.

Remember Martina Hingis in 1997 against Iva Majoli? The Swiss Miss' loss prevented a true Grand Slam, and she's never won in Paris. How about Kim Clijsters against Jennifer Capriati in '01? 12-10 3rd set. Of course, she never had a better opportunity. Even more recently, Nicole Vaidisova looked ready to explode in all her glory as she road her big game into the SF a year ago. But one bad shot selection doomed her run to the final, and this 2Q she's prepared for Paris by mostly pulling out of tournaments with nagging injuries.

Jankovic may never be in a better position to seize her moment in the dirt. Rome was her third title of the season, tying her for tops on tour. She's played more matches and chalked up more wins in '07 than any other player (she's 41-10 with her undefeated Fed Cup action factored in). Her two clay court titles this quarter make her this year's clay court star, as well.

Of course, Jankovic has seemingly been on the edge of immense stardom at the last two slams. At the U.S. Open, she reached the SF before she met up with Justine Henin. She even led 6-4/4-2 and served at 40/30. But her argument with the chair umpire over a call caused her to lose her concentration, then Henin jumped into the breach and walked off with the final ten games of the match. It was an opportunity fumbled, and even while Jankovic talked about Henin faking an injury after the match the blame for losing it couldn't rightly be placed at the feet of anyone but Jelena herself.

In January, she came to Melbourne as the hottest player on tour. She played well in the Australian Open, but you got the sense that she peaked too soon and petered out in the 4th Round against Serena Williams (who could write a book on seizing the big-stage moment, couldn't she?). Hmmm, it seems that Jankovic is again scheduled to play in the Strasbourg Tier III this week... a week after winning a Tier I, and a week before the start of a slam. Might we be seeing a repeat of Melbourne, with Jankovic playing one week too many BEFORE a slam and then suffering the effects of the decision over the following two weeks? Whether Jankovic's decision turns out to be of the I-told-you-so variety will be something to keep an eye on in Paris, that's for sure.

Still, so much will be in her favor in Paris. Her Rome title pushed her into a Top 4 seed position, and might allow her to avoid defending Roland Garros champ Henin until a possible meeting in the final (or at least another slam SF, eh?). Of course, Henin is more than just a career nemesis for Jankovic... she's her white whale to Jelena's peg-legged Captain Ahab. Henin is 5-0 against the Serbian in her career, even with ol' Peggy winning the opening set in four of the five matchups. The most recent loss was the week before last in Berlin, when Jankovic led 6-3/4-4 before rain halted the match, as well as Rakija Girl #1's chances of slaying her personal version of Moby Dick. Even while she's managed to chip away at the Belgian, she's yet to find a way to take her down (and, no, the WTA won't let her stash a harpoon in with her extra rackets next time, either).

2005 Charleston - JHH 5-7/6-4/6-3
2006 US Open - JHH 4-6/6-4/6-0
2007 Doha - Henin 6-7/6-2/6-4
2007 Warsaw - Henin 7-5/2-6/6-4
2007 Berlin - Henin 3-6/6-4/6-4

Not that Henin's presence (or absence) is on Jankovic's mind or anything. After winning in Rome on Sunday, she said, "You know why I won? Because Henin didn't come."

Now, Jankovic has been known to sport a quick smile and sharp wit, but even in every lighthearted crack there lies some truth... no matter how much Jelena wants to avoid the overhanging pressure of being a favorite in Paris, she's going to be one of them. How she handles that will either lead her directly into the spotlight, or directly into the face of the sun.

"I'm not putting any pressure on myself. I'm just playing and improving. Every week I'm getting better," she said on Sunday.

But can she do it for three more weeks? And not just ANY three weeks, but the NEXT three weeks? The timing has to be perfect. How much has she learned since that day in New York last September? Is her never-take-a-break schedule smart or shortsighted?

We're about to find out.

Surely, I expect to be picking Henin to win Roland Garros again this year (she's the world #1, three-time RG champ and, well, Backspin is sort of built to back the Queen at times such as this, you know?), but the tournament's top storyline heading into Paris isn't centered on the only remaining Waffle, it's going to be about whether or not Jankovic will be able to seize her moment on the red clay.

One way or the other, it should be fun watching her try... when it comes to Jelena, it usually is.

There's just something about her.


S: Jelena Jankovic d. Svetlana Kuznetsova 7-5/6-1
D: Dechy/Santangelo d. Garbin/Vinci

S: Milagros Sequera d. Aleksandra Wozniak 6-1/6-3
D: King/Mirza d. Ehritt-Vanc/Rodinova

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Jelena Jankovic
Jankovic's second Tier I title of the 2Q means the Serbs have pushed aside the Russians as the Tier I aces, having won three in a row while the Horde has lost four of the six Tier I events played in '07. Aside from beating the Contessova in the final, Jankovic also notched Rome wins over A.Bondarenko, Dementieva and Schnyder. But is she primed for Paris?
RISERS: Daniela Hantuchova & Maria Fernanda Alves
Wonder Girl finally emerged from her post-Indian Wells fog in Rome, getting wins over Rezai, Bammer, Chakvetadze and Medina-Garrigues en route to the SF. 24-year old Brazilian Alves is only ranked #284, so maybe it's a bit of a cheat to say she's "rising." But since she's only made a few spare appearances over the years in Backspin, I thought she deserved a mention for winning her third straight ITF title (including 15 consecutive matches) this weekend at a $10K in Irapuato, giving her sixteen ITF singles titles in her career.
SURPRISES: Milagros Sequera & Maria-Emilia Salerni
the onslaught of first-time singles champions continued in the 2Q with 26-year old Venezuelan vet Sequera securing her first title in Fes with a victory over first-time WTA finaliast Aleksandra Wozniak. Sequera, who reached a high of #29 in 2005, hadn't reached a WTA singles final since Quebec City in 2003, also knocked off Razzano, Pin and Olaru in Morocco. Meanwhile, Argentine qualifier Salerni -- who turned 24 last Monday -- reached her third career tour SF with Fes wins over Mirza, Fedossova and Kloesel. She hadn't reached a tour SF since 2004.
VETERANS: Patty Schnyder & Elena Dementieva
it was like old home week in Rome, as vets Schnyder & Dementieva continued to rebound from their slow-to-nonexistent starts to '07. Sneaky Patty reached the SF with nice wins over Bardina, Tu and Stosur, as well as a huge one over Serena Williams. Since (and including) her Fed Cup play last month, Schnyder has gone 10-3. Punch-Sober reached the QF with wins over Camerin, Castano and Petrova. If she can escape Strasbourg without an injury, she'll safely head to Roland Garros -- where she was the RU in '04 -- with her form better than it's been all season.
FRESH FACES: Aleksandra Wozniak & Ioana-Raluca Olaru

the 2Q has been witness to the early stages of the Canadian and Romanian tennis renaissances. 19-year old Canuck Wozniak advanced to her first tour singles final in Fes. A-Woz surged past fellow teenager Alize Cornet in the QF and Salerni in the SF. 18-year old Olaru reached her second SF of the season in Fes, qualifying and then knocking off teens Vania King and Caroline "C-Woz" Wozniacki and came within a 3rd set tie-break against Sequera from reaching her first career WTA final.
DOWN: Martina Hingis
not only did her hip injury prevent Hingis from defending her '06 title in Rome, but it'll prevent her from playing next week in Roland Garros, too.

1. Rome F - Jankovic d. Kuznetsova
Kuznetsova is 2007's hard-luck finalist. This was her fourth final of the season, three of them Tier I's (including back-to-back finals in Berlin & Rome). She's yet to win one, though.
2. Rome 2nd - Stosur d. Mauresmo
The trip back Appendectomy Road has been a long and winding one so far for Amelie.
3. Rome QF - Schnyder d. S.Williams
Serena isn't really back in form yet after her recent layover. Hmmm, when was the last time we heard that? Yeah... before Melbourne, of course.
4. Fes F - Sequera d. Wozniak

Before this final, the last Canadian to win a WTA tour singles title was Helen Kelesi in Taranto, Italy in April 1988. After this match, that was still the case. The drought might not last much longer, though.
5. Rome 1st - Dechy d. Groenefeld
One can't expect ALG to climb out of her slump by going coachless, ala Federer, but maybe it's time to strip down the game with a set of new eyes?
6. Rome 3rd - Dementieva d. Petrova
...4-3, ret..
With Roland Garros coming up, a year after an injury scuttled her plans for Paris, Petrova has to be having a severe case of deja vu after this one.
7. Fes 1st - Salerni d. Mirza
Fes 1st - Sequera d. Razzano
...3-6/7-6/ret.. Mirza was the #1 seed, and Razzano the #2. Oh, to try to forecast the results of a Tier IV event on red clay.
8. Rome 1st - Paszek d. Pratt
It's not often that the youngest player in the draw (16-year old Paszek) faces off against the oldest (34-year old Pratt) and the sport isn't taking place at a family reunion.
9. Rome 3rd - S.Williams d. Peer
The Corporal should get battle pay for all these matchups she has with Serena.
10. Rome 1st - Santangelo d. Morigami
What a difference a few days makes for Prague champ Akiko. On Monday, she lost in Strasbourg to Caroline Maes, too.
HM- Rome 1st - Medina-Garrigues d. Zheng
A week after Jie Zheng and Na Li both went down at the hands of Maria Elena Camerin on the same day, Zheng lost and Li pulled out of Rome singles with a gastrointestinal problem.

3...Justine Henin
2...Serena Williams

**2007 WTA FINALS**
4...Justine Henin (3-1)

6....United States
5....Czech Republic

**2007 TIER I FINALS**
Tokyo - #6 Hingis d. #16 Ivanovic
I.W. - #18 Hantuchova d. #4 Kuznetsova
Miami - #18 S.Williams d. #1 Henin
Charleston - #9 Jankovic d. #12 Safina
Berlin - #16 Ivanovic d. #4 Kuznetsova

17...Martina Hingis
8....Justine Henin
8....Serena Williams
6....Amelie Mauresmo
6....Venus Williams
5....Mary Pierce
4....Maria Sharapova
2....Jelena Dokic
2....Daniela Hantuchova
2....Ana Ivanovic
2....Anastasia Myskina
2....Nadia Petrova
1....Anna Chakvetadze
1....Elena Dementieva
1....Svetlana Kuznetsova
1....Alicia Molik
1....Patty Schnyder

Tatiana Golovin (19/FRA) - A.Island
Gisela Dulko (22/ARG) - Budapest
Greta Arn (28/GER) - Estoril
Akiko Morigami (27/JPN) - Prague

#325 Sorana Cirstea - Budapest (L)
#176 Greta Arn - Estoril (W)
#143 Yaroslava Shvedova - Bangalore (W)

4...Lisa Raymond
4...Samantha Stosur
4...Cara Black
4...Liezel Huber

ROUND OF 16: Backspin 59-50
SEMIFINALS: Pierre 30-26
FINALISTS: Backspin 12-10
CHAMPIONS: Backspin 3-2

2006 FINAL: Vaidisova d. Peng
2007 TOP: Mauresmo/Jankovic

Mauresmo d. Bartoli
Jankovic d. Li

Jankovic d. Mauresmo

Mauresmo def Vesnina
Jankovic def Medina-Garrigues

Mauresmo def Jankovic

2006 FINAL: Peer d. Myskina
2007 TOP: Sharapova/Dementieva

V.Williams d. Sharapova
Schnyder d. Dementieva

Schnyder d. V.Williams

A.Radwanska d. V.Williams
Schnyder d. Dementieva

Schnyder d. A.Radwanska


All for now.


Blogger Zidane said...

I must admit that when you predicted a maiden title for Wosniak at the beginning of the year, I was sceptical. I still doubt it (though I would love it), but if it doesn't happen, you will have been close.

The most impressing about that is that clay is her worst surface. Her game for the rest of the year will be interesting to watch. I heard she wants to finish the year top 50.

Tue May 22, 12:10:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Yeah, I was thinking she might have a shot at one of the small tournaments toward the end of the year. Forest Hills, or maybe if she goes back home to play in Quebec City. Doing what she did on clay in Fes is a good sign.

Tue May 22, 01:54:00 PM EDT  

Post a Comment

<< Home