Head back 12 months, and it would have been a fair guess to say that Jelena Jankovic’s tennis career had blossomed more brightly when she was younger and before her focus was to spread elsewhere.
A former world number one player, she was down to 22 in the rankings and apparently on the slide. It wasn’t looking good.
Jankovic is one of those players who it seems has been around forever, winning the Australian Open girls title 13 years ago and peaked, to-date of course, with the number one slot and the singles final of the 2008 US Open when she went down to Serena Williams in two close sets. She can draw some solace perhaps in that she has beaten the American four times over the years, and to just eight defeats too, a ‘record’ few can match.
“I think I'm one of the few players who has lots of wins against her and her sister,” said Jankovic before the Australian Open.
“She beat me three times last year and two times in three sets. So it's a matter of time.
“You have to believe that you can beat her. Of course she's the best player in the world and plays so strong.”
Consistency though more than moments of brilliance has been underlying theme to Jankovic’s sporting career, her first-rate on-court record increasingly matched by her doings off it.
First up, there’s the education, a recurring theme among the higher-ranked Serbian contingent. As with her compatriots Novak Djokovic and Ana Ivanovic, Jankovic hails from a family where academia features highly. Her parents are economists, and she and her brothers are all university-educated, Jelena with a masters degree in business. Her brother Marko, as an aside, is also her coach.
Then there’s the languages, four of them if you count her current study of Spanish.
She’s also prolific on Twitter; pics in the last few days with a kangaroo, koala and SpongeBob Squarepants are all to be found on her account.
To an extent though, she is bound in the public’s mind with Ivanovic, and their paths have certainly followed a parallel. When Jankovic was named a Unicef ambassador to Serbia in December 2007, Ivanovic had been there three months before. When she finally hit the number one ranking in August 2008, Ivanovic again had scaled the summit two months before. They’ve had their public spats too. Jankovic is rarely the lightest of souls on court, but for the past 12 months she has put much of her energies back into tennis and an attack on the rankings.
The slip down to number 22 a year ago patently hit a nerve, 2013 bringing a formidable resurgence at the age of 28. A title in Bogota, her tour win for three years, and a close loss to Serena Williams in the last four of the year-ending WTA Championships with a commensurate rise to number eight in the rankings, will undoubtedly bolster what could well be a last push for the peak of the game.
The Serena factor aside, it’s not inconceivable. She moves well, is still one of the faster players around, avoids serious injury and, with the current Australian Open, has now competed in 41 straight Slams. As 2014 breaks, Jelena Jankovic is in the most buoyant of moods.
“Anything is possible this year,” she says. “I will look forward to the challenge. Now Serena Williams is the best player and we want to catch up to her and even be better than her.
“I was the number one player in the world in 2008. I know what it takes to get there.”
Whatever happens, it looks very much like the trajectory is up.
In the second round on Thursday, Jankovic will play Ayumi Morita of Japan in the third match on Show Court 3.