29 June 2008

 Jelena Jankovic’s website has a beaming picture of her looking up to the stars with the slogan “always with a smile on her face”. But for far too much of this match her head was downcast as the tragedy queen as she wondered what was wrong with her game – not to mention her much-tended left knee. She won but Venus Williams awaits in the quarter-finals. Jankovic won’t be favourite.

At first glance it was the 17-year-old Caroline Wozniacki whose limbs looked as if they might be suspect, big blank ankle straps protruding above both tennis shoes. But even before she broke Jankovic in the sixth game to lead 4-2 you could feel the confidence and the ability which has seen her win Junior Wimbledon in 2006 and already climb to number 30 in the rankings. For Wozniacki has the strut.

It’s not a silly strut, not offensively arrogant. It’s a springy step, walk tall, type of strut which says: “I have the talent, let’s get it on.” Jankovic may be ranked No 2 in the world and be the highest remaining seed (2) here after the Ivanovic and Sharapova debacles, but the loose-limbed, white eye-shaded, Wozniacki was utterly unfazed.

She has the shape of a model, the lines of a racehorse and tabloid fever can be only a match or two away. She was never afraid to trade blows from the baseline, she ran down shot after shot and was rewarded by a performance across the net which was hardly one to set before the sporting greats gathered, as traditional, in the Royal Box on this “People’s Saturday”.

At times the Jankovic first serve was nothing short of woeful. In the unlikely event of it ever being in, it had dropped down to little over 80 mph and it was only fitting that it would be her double fault which finally handed the first set to the golden-haired young star from Odense. Jankovic’s website “always with a smile on her face” seemed long abandoned and as those oriental eyes narrowed in concentration the Serbian suddenly made you think she might make a very severe old lady if life did not treat her kindly in future.

It was not treating her well now, she claimed that the damage to her knee was done in the first set, but luckily her young opponent was at last doing her the sort of favours one of her tender years is supposed to grant. A couple of uncharacteristically feeble netted forehands saw Wozniacki lose the opening game on her serve, and at last Jankovic was on her way.

The Danish girl would not go easily, holding serve to 3-4 before having a sustained assault on the Jankovic serve in the 8th game which included winning one titanic 20-stroke rally with a vicious double-fisted backhand. But two break points came and went. Jankovic served at 5-4, put in a double to trail 15-30 but pulled herself together to put down her best serve of the match, closed out the set, slumped in her chair and summoned the trainer.

Suspicions that she had been moving a bit gingerly along the baseline between points was now confirmed as about six yards of bandage were wound around her knee making her look like something out of the emergency ward than the locker room. It is apparently the first time that Jankovic has injured a leg but she has carried so many other ailments, the last one being a swollen arm at Roland Garros, that afterwards one interviewer even asked if she could remember the last time she had not called a trainer on during a tournament.

No one is accusing her of gamesmanship but the match rather lost its way. Both players failed to hold their opening service games, Wozniacki was broken again in the third and lost it again in the fifth to allow Jankovic to serve out for 6-2, albeit starting that game with a double fault.

The bandage did not last, the trainer being summoned to cut it off after a couple of games, but the movement between points still looked painful. “The physio was not happy about that,” she said afterwards, “because I was taking a risk to get injured even more. That’s what I chose because I wanted to win. With the tape, I felt like I couldn’t move and I was having a lot more pain. I don’t play tomorrow and hopefully now I can get some treatment and feel better for my next match.”

At last the website smile was back as she added “but what can I do? I don’t like being injured. It’s no fun going to treatments, going to have an MRI, sitting, sleeping in the physio room. I prefer to go out with my friends and just have a good time.”

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