Jelena Jankovic survives long day

PARIS -- Jelena Jankovic's career path has been a little like rushing on the Paris Metro late at night after a long day covering the French Open.

You walk a mile or so to catch the Metro before it closes at 1 a.m. You get on the train and transfer to the No. 6 line at La Motte-Picquet-Grenelle and soon find yourself leaning back to savor the ride and the dazzling view of the fully lighted Eiffel Tower.

Then you realize the train is swiftly taking you in the wrong direction.

So at the next stop you rush off the train, head back down the stairs, cross under the rail line, climb up the other side and take your place on the platform, hoping that the last train hasn't left.

Jankovic should be able to relate. Raised in war-torn Serbia, Jankovic joined the WTA Tour in 2001 and steadily rose up the rankings. She reached No. 1 in the world in August 2008, quite an accomplishment for someone who trained for a time in a converted swimming pool (as did fellow Serb Novak Djokovic -- it was that sort of time in Serbia).

Then she was out of the top spot by the following February.

By the end of last year, Jankovic was No. 22. She is currently 18 and trying to claw back.

Her French Open first-round match Tuesday followed the same sort of pattern. Jankovic was all smiles while taking the first set over Daniela Hantuchova, 6-4. Then she fell behind love-5 in a frown-filled second set before she rallied furiously to win the set 7-6 (9-7) after a lengthy rain delay.

When Hantuchova's last shot sailed long to seal the match, Jankovic raised her arm, pumped her fist and flashed a grin that would have been bright enough to light the courts for evening matches at Roland Garros.

"It's nice to be playing pretty well again," she said. "That's what I strive for, to just keep improving, getting better and getting on top of my game. I want to come back. I want to really go to the top again. So far, so good."

What effect did the No. 1 ranking have on Jankovic's career? Mats Wilander also had a cup of coffee at No. 1, holding the rank for roughly four months in 1988. "I was a horrible No. 1," he said. "I don't know how it affected me but while I was No. 1, I played my worst tennis."

There is a crucial difference between Wilander and Jankovic, though. Wilander won three majors (the Australian, French and U.S. Opens) the year he reached No. 1, and seven in his career. Jankovic has never won a major and only once reached a final (2008 U.S. Open).

Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP/Getty Images

Jelena Jankovic overcame a love-5 deficit in the second set to clinch her match against Daniela Hantuchova.

"I think there is more pressure on the person who is No. 1 in the world and is not doing well in the Grand Slams, like Jankovic," Wilander said. "I think then it adds pressure. Then there is a lot of pressure on being No. 1, because you haven't actually proven to anyone that you are the best player in the world -- you're just the most consistent player over the course of 12 months."

Jankovic denied she felt pressure from being ranked No. 1, instead citing a 2010 ankle injury as a major source of her troubles.

"My movement is the No. 1 thing in my game," she said. "If I don't move well, everything falls apart.

"The last two years I was changing coaches, trying to find the right team, the right fit and trying to come back. Now, I'm with my brother [Marko], with a hitting partner, and I think that's what works the best for me. I have had some quite good results in last two months."

Jankovic won at Bogota in February, lost to Serena Williams in Charleston in April and beat Li Na to reach the quarterfinals at Rome two weeks ago. She won Tuesday in what was a very long day. She showed up around 7 a.m. for her scheduled 11 a.m. match, waited through a roughly two-hour rain delay, then sat through another hour-plus rain delay just as she had started her rally in the second set against Hantuchova. It must have been like waiting for a Parisian waiter to bring your bill.

"I think [the delay] did me a favor," Jankovic said. "I came off the court and I wasn't satisfied with the way I played the second set. I received some instructions from my brother. I changed certain things tactically and came out much stronger after the rain delay. I was satisfied the way I came back after the delay and [was] able to stay strong physically and mentally and finish the match off in two sets."

Jankovic's fall from the top ranking was further demonstrated when her postmatch news conference was held in the tiny, cramped Interview Room No. 3. Only three English-speaking reporters attended. She later did a couple of additional interviews outside the press center, including one in which she was asked to answer five trivia questions about the French Open.

Stumped repeatedly, she protested good-naturedly that her brain was fried after such a long, draining day.

She had been at Roland Garros for nearly 12 hours by then -- but it's all part of the job when you want to get back to the top. And hey, there was a lot of time left before the last train on the Metro.

"My game is coming back together," Jankovic said. "I feel more confident. I have more belief in myself that I can still be out there and play against the top players and beat them and be up there with them -- that's my goal. It doesn't matter ranking-wise. The ranking will come on its own. If I have the game, if I work hard, if I just continue to get better, improve segments in my game and make those steps forward, I can be there again."

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