the legend

joyful rogger fedder

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Jelena's mind games

Photo Titled Jelena Jankovic
Jelena Jankovic
Membership of an exclusive club sounds as if it should be a good thing. But along with Dinara Safina, Jelena Jankovic holds one particular distinction which few in tennis would choose. She has been number one in the world without ever winning a Grand Slam title.

She is popular with crowds, and charismatic, yet a thread of mental fragility seems to run through her game, causing some to wonder whether the 24-year-old Serbian is likely to make the breakthrough. It has been suggested that the mixed doubles crown she lifted with Jamie Murray at Wimbledon two years ago might be the pinnacle of her Grand Slam achievements.

"When I step out on to the court, I believe in myself and my ability to win tennis matches," says Jankovic. "Obviously there are some occasions where I don't perform as well as I expect to, or in the manner that I wish to play. But one thing about me is that I always try my best. I never give up and I have a real fighting spirit out on the court."

John McEnroe once said that Jankovic moves better on court than any other player he has seen. Yet she, like Safina, retains a competitive vulnerability which feels as if it could strike at any time.

It is a puzzle, because no one can become the best player in the world without huge determination and dedication. Yet intriguingly, her apparent occasional frailty goes right back to her time at the world-renowned Nick Bollettieri Academy in Florida. She went there in 1997 at the age of 12, having excelled at piano in her infancy before being introduced to tennis at the age of nine. In 2001 her training group included Maria Sharapova and Tatiana Golovin.

Bollettieri – who pronounces her first name with a hard J – remembers her well. "In the beginning Jelena was intimidated by Maria," says the tennis coach. "Slowly but surely Jelena began to mature. It was important she stand up for her own self. Over the years I always liked Jelena but that wasn't easy for some of the other coaches. Jelena was not the easiest person. If anything went wrong, it was never Jelena's fault – oh, you didn't give me court one, or the calls went against me. But as time went on Jelena began to mature and feel that she was something special."

Jankovic also has strong memories of the Academy, and feels it made her the player she has become.

"At first being there wasn't easy. I was a little girl away from my family and friends, and in the beginning I couldn't even speak a word of English. It was difficult but I think the experience made me stronger mentally and helped me to mature as a person. I had to be strong and do almost everything for myself. It was a very competitive environment and I fought hard to be a success there.

"Of course we [herself, Sharapova and Golovin] all still chat together from time to time. At the moment we're all really focused on our careers so there isn’t that much time for socialising together especially during a tournament. We’re there to do a job."

Ricardo Sanchez, her coach of the last three years who used to work with Carlos Moya, has huge faith in her.

"It's very easy working with her because she's such great fun to be around," he says. "She's a very nice girl. She's always smiling and she’s got a strong work ethic. She has great athleticism and she trains as hard as any male player that I’ve worked with."

Jankovic herself makes no apology for having finished last year ranked one, despite the absence of a Grand Slam title.

"I cried when it was announced that I was the number one player in the world. I simply couldn't believe that I had just achieved such an accolade. People dream about becoming successful and getting to the top in whatever profession they're in and I have achieved this in tennis. All the hard work that I put in when I was younger has paid off. All the sacrifices that I made have been worth it."

No comments:

Post a Comment