Monday, July 28, 2008

Wk.30- Somewhat Broken, Occasionally Bowed and Still Not #1


Wherever Jelena Jankovic goes, intrigue is sure to follow. And on a WTA tour where the U.S. Open Series is touted as an "important" late summer happening even as most of the top players are either too injured, protective of their pre-Olympic health, preoccupied or otherwise barely bothered enough to put in more than a cameo appearance in North American events, I suppose the walking and talking Serbian question mark/exclamation point/asterisk/medical oddity/smiley face should be seen as the invaluable asset that she is, huh?

The world #2 is the most entertaining player on tour for all the right, and some of the wrong, reasons.

Jankovic is not the BEST player, even if she has been sniffing around the edges of the #1 ranking for almost two months and may one day actually manage to claim the position (though it might come with one of those "invisible asterisks" attached). Like Kim Clijsters and Amelie Mauresmo, who before her became debatable #1's on the computer before they justified their standing by winning a slam title, the slam-deficient Jankovic is trying to slip through the back door of the most exclusive night club in the city without having to pay a cover charge or pass muster at the front door. Of course, bless her, would there be any more Jankovician way to reach the #1 ranking than by traveling around the bend, under a bridge, through the chicken coop, across a lily pad-strewn pond and over a sky full of puffy clouds? Not in a million years (or free helicopter rides to the court), I'd say.

That's why it's just so w-r-o-n-g that she couldn't pull off the feat in Los Angeles last week, which she would have done had she won the title rather than have been sent packing by eventual champ Dinara Safina in the semifinals. As it was, L.A. proved to be par for the Jelena course for the WTA's unquestioned "almost but not quite" Queen of Predictably Unpredictable Predictability.

Thing is, Jankovic has been the most consistent highly-ranked player on tour for about two years now, even going so far as to equal or improve upon her slam results in fifteen of her sixteen return trips to the season's four biggest events throughout her career. Then again, she's also the top player who's been most unable to close out "the big deal" despite having multiple opportunities to do so, too.

Just this season, she wasn't able to win Roland Garros without the presence of nemesis Justine Henin, and failed to win the all-Serbian SF match for the #1 ranking against Ana Ivanovic (holding true to JJ's luck, AnaIvo not only gained the top spot but also won her first slam one round later). She wasn't able to improve upon her past results at Wimbledon, either, even with Ivanovic, Maria Sharapova and Lindsay Davenport exiting early. Last week, with the likes of Ivanovic, Sharapova, Davenport, Svetlana Kuznetsova and the Williams sisters (three U.S. Open Series champs and five U.S. Open winners) out, she didn't win L.A. and push AnaIvo out of the #1 slot.

Of course, Jankovic DID play last week with a meniscus tear in her knee, so she gets something of a "pass" for that one. Then again, she probably shouldn't have been playing at all. Doctors told her to take 1-2 months off. The "new" Jelena heeded their advice... for a little over a week, then returned to the court. The good news is that the "old" risk-taking Jelena probably would have damned the torpedoes, not missed a single tournament, and already gone down in spine-tingling flames by now.

Baby steps.

At 23 and improving most aspects of her game every season, Jankovic has the potential to have a career trajectory much like Mauresmo's. Not that of a "great" player who wins 4-5 slams, but a "very good" one who blooms late and wins one or two from age 25-28. Few players would be more in their element than Jankovic driving forward for a late-in-the-game major title that would validate her entire career in one instant, especially so soon after she supposedly considered quitting the sport after dropping ten straight matches early in 2006 (a story likely exaggerated for effect, considering Jelena's natural inclination to be as immensely dramatic with her pronouncements as possible).

Bless her.

For a time last week I was thinking that L.A. might be Jankovic's moment of truth, the place where she'd prove (or disprove) once and for all whether or not she'd ever have the goods to be able to gather herself enough to become a world #1 and/or slam champion. The knee, though, sort of put the kibosh on that. But the fact remains that she's going to need to fully grasp one of these golden opportunities -- seeing it in front of her, feeling the pressure but still pulling through without melting down mentally or breaking down physically -- if she's ever going to REALLY leave the sport having become anything near the player she could and should be.

Come to think of it, Jankovic becoming #1 by winning Los Angeles without facing any of the other contenders for the top spot might have been a tad on the dull side, and maybe even a touch "boring." It wouldn't have been nearly as dramatic (or even odd) enough to meet Jelena's standards, even with the proximity to Hollywood. There has to be a "better"' way... so don't be surprised if she finds it down the road, even if we might have to cover our eyes at the audacity of it all when she does.

(Of course, whether pushing her body, ignoring medical advice and blindly moving forward because of some unspoken early morning epiphany is something that a player could ever hope to survive long enough to fulfill her athletic potential is another discussion entirely, isn't it?)

As the years go by, Jankovic's quest will no doubt be fascinating and theatrical... not to mention exasperating, irritating, humorous, infuriating, wonderful, horrible, fun and, possibly even one day, emotionally fulfilling. Maybe. I mean, as long as Jelena doesn't do something perilous and/or stupid and mess things up.



S: Dinara Safina def. Flavia Pennetta 6-4/6-2
D: Chan/Chuang d. Hrdinova/Uhlirova

S: Sara Errani def. Anabel Medina-Garrigues 6-3/6-3
D: Medina-Garrigues/Ruano-Pascual d. Dushevina/Makarova



the Russian Cat lives! Safina has patented a formula for winning on the WTA that most players simply couldn't stomach: play poorly enough to find yourself match point down, hold on by your fingernails, then smite your stunned opponent to gain the victory. Yep, she did it again in Los Angeles, coming back from being MP down against Alla Kudryavtseva in the 3rd Round to knock off, in order, Victoria Azarenka, Jankovic and Flavia Pennetta to win her second title of 2008.
RISERS: Bethanie Mattek, USA & Chan Yung-Jan/Chuang Chia-Jung, TPE/TPE

Mattek, who has a career in TV down the road if she wants it based on her on-set interviews with ESPN over the weekend, didn't quite pull off "an A-Woz" in L.A., but she got close. An early-round win over Nicole Vaidisova helped fuel a SF run that ended with a three-set loss to Pennetta, but solidified her standing as a player who wants to improve, is committed enough to make it happen, and smart enough to do it on her own terms (currently without a coach, she scouts her opponents via YouTube). Perhaps gearing up for a medal run in Beijing, the Taiwanese pair of Chan & Chuang won Los Angeles to raise their 2008 title total to three. They won in both the SF (vs. Raymond/Stosur) and final (Hrdinova/Uhlirova) via 3rd set super tie-breaks.
SURPRISES: Yuan Meng, CHN & Elena Bovina, RUS
Yuan gained her first career tour QF in L.A. with wins over Kateryna Bondarenko, Sania Mirza and a surprising-in-her-own-right Melanie South. Elsewhere, Bovina continued her comeback with her first tour QF since Rome in May '05 after qualifying and getting main draw victories over Tatiana Perebiynis and Camille Pin in Portoroz.
VETERANS: Flavia Pennetta, ITA & Anabel Medina-Garrigues/Virginia Ruano-Pascual, ESP/ESP
after being so good in the lower-tiered events during her career, Pennetta reached her first Tier II final in Los Angeles. It was quite a week for the Noodle, as she started the week by wiping out A-Woz (more on that in a moment), then got wins over Tamira Paszek, Ai Sugiyama, Sybille Bammer and Mattek before losing to Safina in the final. It was her third final this season. AMG & VRP are proving to be quite a lethal doubles team. Their Portoroz title was their third this year. Medina-Garrigues had a good week in singles, too, reaching the final.
FRESH FACES: Sara Errani, ITA & Julia Goerges, GER

suddenly, Errani can't lose. (Figures, since she'd always lose to Llagostera-Vives when I was picking her to win titles earlier this season.) She ran her winning streak to ten matches as she won her second straight tournament in Portoroz. She defeated Mara Santangelo, Maria Kirilenko, Caroline Wozniacki and Medina-Garrigues, and is now ranked a career-best #43. 19-year old German Goerges reached her second career SF in Portoroz, once again giving Katarina Srebotnik nightmares (after that 16-14 3rd set at Wimbledon) along the way.
DOWN: Nicole Vaidisova, CZE & Daniela Hantuchova, SVK
THAT Vaidisova showed up again in Los Angeles as she lost in the 2nd Round to Mattek. It's not that the Czech lost that's the problem, it's that once again she went out with a love set in the 6-4/6-0 defeat. The last Top 10 talent who put up so many bagels in defeats in recent years was probably Jelena Dokic... before the free fall that she's only now coming out of some 4-5 years later. Still traveling a rough road back from injury, Hantuchova was bounced in the 2nd Round in L.A. by Olga Govortsova, and is now just 7-8 since reaching the SF at the Australian Open.
ITF PLAYER: Melanie Oudin, USA
the 16-year old "next great American hope" won her first career ITF title in a $50K in Lexington, Kentucky with a win in the final over Carly Gullickson.

1. LA 3rd - Safina d. Kudryavtseva
Safina isn't exactly using a reliable template for some of her wins, but it's working for her so who's to argue? Of course, if she'd failed to save all those match points over the last two months the buzz on her would be positively deadly rather than divine.
2. LA Final - Safina d. Pennetta
Tag, Marat. You're it.
3. Port Final - Errani d. Medina-Garrigues
Without Henin to distort the numbers, Errani is now just one title away from tying for the tour lead for this season.
4. L.A. 1st - Stosur d. Peer
The Corporal has just one QF-or-better result since February, and has been dumped out in her opening match five times in her last seven events.
5. LA 1st - Pennetta d. Wozniak
LA 1st - Dubois d. Harkleroad
...6-2/6-3. Wozniak withdrew from L.A. after winning in Stanford... but apparently decided to play a match anyway. At least Dubois stood up for Canadian honor, making the score Quebec 1, Playboy Models 0.
6. Mtl Q1 - Black d. Karatantcheva
Mtl Q2 - Black d. Puchkova
...6-3/1-0 ret. Maybe Cara should act like the Olympics are coming up every year and play a bit more singles?
HM- Mtl 1st - Larcher de Brito d. King
The Kid just keeps on coming on stronger and stronger and stronger.

**2008 WTA FINALS**
4...Serena Williams (3-1)
4...Vera Zvonareva (1-2 + L)

3-0...Maria Sharapova
3-0...Agnieszka Radwanska
2-0...Maria Kirilenko
2-0...Lindsay Davenport
2-0...Justine Henin

19...Maria Sharapova, 2003-08
10...Anastasia Myskina, 1999-05
9...Elena Dementieva, 2003-08
9...Svetlana Kuznetsova, 2002-07
9...Olga Morozova, 1969-75
7...DINARA SAFINA, 2002-08
7...Nadia Petrova, 2005-07
7...Anna Chakvetadze, 2006-08

18...Maria Sharapova (January-March)
17...Serena Williams (March-May)
12...Dinara Safina (May-June)
11...Tamarine Tanasugarn (June)
10...SARA ERRANI (JULY-current)

6...Cara Black & Liezel Huber
2...Alona & Kateryna Bondarenko
2...Katarina Srebotnik & Ai Sugiyama

3...Agnieszka Radwanska (hard/red clay/grass)
2...Ana Ivanovic (hard/red clay)
2...Maria Sharapova (hard/green clay)
2...Serena Williams (hard/green clay)
2...DINARA SAFINA (red clay/hard)
2...SARA ERRANI (red clay/hard)
2...Justine Henin (hard/deco turf)

MONTREAL, QUEBEC CAN (I-Hard Outdoor)(USO Series)
07 FINAL: Henin d. Jankovic
08 TOP: Ivanovic/Jankovic

Ivanovic d. Azarenka
Safina d. Kuznetsova
Sharapova d. Chakvetadze
Jankovic d. Petrova

Safina d. Ivanovic
Sharapova d. Jankovic

Safina d. Sharapova

...I was going to go with Petrova knocking off Jankovic in the QF, but Jelena being Jelena I changed it to her winning there. Of course, Jelena being Jelena, she'll probably end up winning the tournament. Safina has been able to carry over momentum on whatever surface she wishes the last two months, so why not figure it'll continue? If it does, I guess the 2008 U.S. Open Series champion will then become a foregone conclusion.

07 FINAL: A.Radwanska d. Dushevina
08 TOP: A.Radwanska/Szavay

A.Radwanska d. Wozniacki
Srebotnik d. Szavay

A.Radwanska d. Srebotnik

...come on, A-Rad. Do it one more time for Your Friendly Neighborhood Backspinner.

Ivanovic def Zvonareva
Safina def Kuznetsova
Sharapova def Bartoli
Jankovic def Dementieva
Ivanovic def Safina
Sharapova def Jankovic
Sharapova def Ivanovic

Radwanska def Wozniacki
Erakovic def Szavay
Radwanska def Erakovic

All for now.


Blogger Zach said...


Jankovic has to make the Montreal final to make #1. Goes out in the quarters (to a very good player that she still should have beaten), and says in her interviews that she's really okay with not being #1, since she doesn't deserve it.

Then it turns out someone screwed up the math, and she's #1 ANYWAY.

Odd enough for you?

Sun Aug 03, 09:22:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Haha, I know. How Jankovician is that?

And that she'll ascend to the top spot on August 11, after a rare week in which no WTA tournaments will be played, makes it even more "perfect." :)

Sun Aug 03, 03:33:00 PM EDT  

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