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Monday, August 22, 2011


After the up and down final in Cincinnati between Maria Sharapova and Jelena Jankovic, fans of Serbian tennis might feel they have a little more to look forward to at the US Open.

Jankovic, who has been struggling to win matches and fell out of the top 10 for the first time in nearly four years, made a surprise run last week that showed glimpses of the game that once made her a world no. 1. Her national compatriot and friend, Ana Ivanovic, has also been seeing improvements of late, recovering from a cataclysmic drop out of the WTA's top 50 after winning the 2008 French Open. What's been the difference?

For JJ—an on-court diva who likes to play quickly (and challenge slowly...)—this week's performance seemed to showcase the magnificent counterpunching style that she once used to absorb and deflect the power of big-hitters like Serena Williams. At the peak of her game, Jankovic was always capable of out-rallying her opponents, seemingly tireless as she sliced, chipped and pushed shots back on court before rocketing a backhand for a winner of her own. But somewhere along the line, all of that changed.

Since flubbing her semifinal match against Sam Stosur in the 2010 French Open, Jankovic seems to have altered her game, focusing more on her serve and whipping harder forehands that, say two years ago, she would have been content rolling into corners. Maybe the style change came as a result of the passive mind-set that allowed Stosur to dictate their match in Paris, or perhaps she was finally just getting tired from all the long rallies. Regardless, her new game has earned her a few more aces, but a lot more errors, and for someone that was once described as a wall, that just doesn't work.

In Cincinnatti we saw a bit more life from Jankovic. Instead of forcing her shots, she maneuvered the ball at will and waited for the right shot to put away. No longer did we see her second-guessing and dumping forehands into the net, but instead we watched with our mouths dropped as she collected winner after winner on impossible backhand angles. Like the good old days, she scurried around the court, cat-like, forcing her opponents to hit another shot—a perfect shot. Granted, these moments of brilliance were just that: moments—but who's to say she can't build a bit more consistency and find her way back into the top 10?  JJ, like Wozniacki, is a pusher and there's no denying it, but she has more experience, more fire power on both wings and more attitude than the Dane. If she put's it all together (with her new serve, of course) there's no reason why she can't.

Ana Ivanovic is another toss up as we move closer to New York City. An emotional mess only a year ago, the beautiful 2008 French Open champion has upped her level quite a bit. She isn't smacking the electric forehands that made her a grand slam threat three years ago, but she's starting to hit the ball with more pace and sting.

Ana's best work in the last year came at the end of 2010 when she collected titles in Linz and Bali, defeating the likes of Goerges, Vinci, Pavlyuchenkova and Kleybanova in order to do so. Immediately following, the Serbian began to suffer from various injuries including a stomach tear and wrist strain which, paired with a first round exit at the Australian Open, seemed to kill her momentum.

Still, the battle is on as the final grand slam of the year draws near. Ivanovic performed well in a number of events during the hardcourt series, including a tight three set loss to Zvonareva in the semis of Carlsbad and second set tiebreak loss to Petrova in Cincinnati. Though a few more deep runs would have given the Serb a bit more confidence, Ivanovic will be happy to move forward with her new world ranking of 17 and some excellent matches under her belt. For the fans, it's at least been something worthy a few "ajde!"s.

The days of the "Serbian Summer" have come and gone indeed, but that doesn't mean the sun has set on the careers of the WTA's top ranked Serbian women. A resurgence is due, and with a few deep runs, the results will come. Even more, there is the rise of young players like Jovanovski—players who will take the torch from their national heros when the time comes. For now, I'm still holding out for that JJ slam.

-Kedzie Teller, ITB Senior Editor


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