NEW YORK, NY, USA - The grounds on which Jelena Jankovic played her best tennis have changed considerably since pushing Serena Williams through a hotly contested championship match at the 2008 US Open.
Playing on a temporary Louis Armstrong Stadium, the former WTA World No.1 won’t be back in the final this year, bowing out in another closely fought straight set loss to two-time Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova.
“We’ll see,” she sighed when asked if she planned to be back on the completed arena next year.
“I still hope that I will be playing at that time, and playing well. I’ve had a lot of injuries and I’m still coming back from a back injury, and I’m still not strong enough to be playing two or three sets at a high level, to be moving around and playing. I’m still not there yet, but I’ve made huge progress this last month.”
That progress was evident throughout the encounter with Kvitova, whom the Serb beat at the All England Club just two years ago. Despite retiring from her most recent tournament at the Citi Open, Jankovic still very much cut the figure of the fighter she’s been throughout her career, citing a lack of match fitness over physical issues on Monday.
“I was playing a lot better than I expected. We used to play in the semis of events, and now that I was injured pretty much throughout the last couple of years, my ranking dropped. I needed to be on a pretty high level, and I had a lot of ups and downs at some periods during the match. I was playing pretty well and had some pretty good points, and I was showing that I still have the game. But then there were times like, at 3-2, I had two double faults. At 6-5, I hit the drop shot when the whole court was open on the other side. If that shot goes in, it would have been 6-6, who knows what would have happened?
“I think it’s all a matter of not being really match tough, and rusty. All these other girls, they have a lot of matches under their belts, and they have been competing, and I haven’t. I think that was the difference.”
With that, she seemed to silence those who suspected retirement was on her mind, surprising herself with her quality of play.
“I didn’t know how my back would feel competing. I was training, and because I had chronic inflammation, I was very cautious to not aggravate it. I did the best with my team to get ready, and I actually did quite well. I thought I was going to have pain again, but today I almost got up to two hours of playing, and I was fine.”
Still, she wondered aloud where she goes from here, if only because of a deflated ranking - currently at No.68, her lowest in over a decade - that limits her options ahead of the Asian Swing events.
Eager to soldier on if her body allows, Jankovic hopes a few match wins might help build momentum, and help maintain her passion in spite of the weekly grind.
“I love being out there, but I would enjoy it a lot more if I was winning!" she laughed. "There will be days when you play bad, and some when you play well. But for a long period of time, I’ve been playing with pain. I wasn’t able to play a normal match without really suffering. When you’re suffering only on your side, it’s not easy.
"It’s difficult to say because it all depends upon my health issues, but I did well here. So hopefully if I continue with my treatments, the right workouts... Before I could train twice a day, now I can only train once a day. I had to change a lot of things to get myself in as good a shape as possible in a short period of time.”