BRUSSELS, Belgium - Jelena Jankovic's French Open preparations took another hit on Monday, as she lost to Simona Halep in the first round of the Brussels Open - her fourth first round loss in four clay court events this year.
The No.6-seeded Jankovic, who had dropped opening matches at Stuttgart, Madrid and Rome too, battled Halep for two hours and 54 minutes and looked like she was on the verge of snapping the losing streak, holding three match points in the third set - two at 5-3, one at 5-4 - but she fell, 62 36 76(3).
"It was a very difficult match today," Halep said afterwards. "She had 5-3 in the third set and match points, and I was getting a little bit nervous, but I did well and managed to win. I have to say it was one of the best matches in my life."
Jankovic fell from No.20 to No.21 on this week's rankings, her first time outside the Top 20 since the week of August 14, 2006 - she had spent 300 consecutive weeks inside the Top 20 since then, most in the Top 10 (and 18 at No.1).
The other two seeds in action both won, with No.4 seed Dominika Cibulkova squeaking out a 59-minute first set then rolling through the second set to beat Christina McHale, 76(1) 61, and No.10 seed Nadia Petrova firing five aces and holding nine of 10 service games to beat Kateryna Bondarenko, 64 64.
"I wish I could have made a little less unforced errors today, but I served well and played well on the important points," Petrova said. "The beauty of tennis is tomorrow's another day and you can work on things, improve and come back."
Petrova has always enjoyed clay - she has three Premier-level titles on the surface, and both of her Grand Slam semifinals have come at the French.
"I quite enjoy the clay court season - unfortunately it's a little bit short," Petrova said. "It takes a few tournaments to really get a feel for the clay court game and understand it, and by the time the French Open comes and you feel you have a good level of clay court tennis going, the clay court season's over!"
Next up for Petrova is a first-time encounter with Tsvetana Pironkova, who won her first round against Greek veteran Eleni Daniilidou, 61 64. "I'm actually looking forward to it," Petrova said of the looming match-up. "We've never played each other before, although we have practiced, but those are very different."
Pironkova has also been to a Grand Slam semifinal, at Wimbledon in 2010.
Urszula Radwanska, Arantxa Rus, Irina Falconi and Sania Mirza all secured spots in the main draw with wins in the final round of qualifying. Mirza is playing singles for the first time since March - she beat Lesia Tsurenko, 60 60.
"I'm playing singles for the first time in a few months after making a conscious decision to focus on doubles, because of my knee and the way things went," Mirza said. "It just so happened I got in here. I feel like I have a lot of singles left in me, and after winning three quality matches so far here it's kind of confirmed in my head. I'm very happy to qualify and I hope my knee continues to hold up.
"I'm having fun. I really do enjoy playing and competing in singles."