Serbia's No. 1 Jelena Jankovic travelled virtually halfway around the world to get to Belgrade in time for her country’s Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group I play-off against Slovakia. To reach Serbia’s capital, Jankovic had to beat the travel chaos caused by ash from a volcano eruption in Iceland which grounded most flights in Europe for a week, as did Slovakia’s top player Daniela Hantuchova.
“I boarded in Tampa, flew to Atlanta and then waited for seven hours for a connecting flight to Tel Aviv, from where I went to Larnaca in Cyprus and then finally to Belgrade,” Jankovic laid out her arduous journey ahead of Friday’s draw for the tie with the Slovaks. However, her efforts may result in only a psychological boost for a depleted Serbian team, with her involvement in Saturday’s programme hanging in the balance.
Backhand is Jankovic's money shot
“It was strength-sapping and I am still not sure if I’ll be able to play because I have an injury to my left wrist and it’s hampering my backhand, which is my money-making shot. I am hoping for the best but I also have to think long-term,” Jankovic said.
With Serbia’s No. 2 player Ana Ivanovic missing after she pulled out of the tie due to poor form, Jankovic’s absence would almost certainly deal a fatal blow to the country’s hopes of staying in the top tier of the competition. “We are still not sure if Jankovic will play or not, we will have to consult the doctors once again and see if there is improvement,” added Serbia team captain Dejan Vranes, who acknowledged Slovakia was the favourite to clinch the tie on red clay in the Belgrade Arena.
Jankovic, who won the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas Heart Award for her effervescent performances in a 3-2 first round home defeat to Russia, was more optimistic. “I am confident that we can win because this is a good chance for the young players to prove their worth on the big stage and I really believe our No. 2 player Bojana Jovanovski has it in her to win one of her singles rubbers.”.
Hantuchova beat Jankovic last week in Charleston
Should she recover from the wrist injury, Jankovic will take on Slovakia’s No. 2 Magdalena Rybarikova in the opening singles rubber on Friday, followed by Jovanovski’s match with Hantuchova. Jankovic is to lock horns with Hantuchova in the first singles on Sunday and will be eager to avenge a 16 63 63 defeat to the Slovak in last week’s Family Circle Cup quarterfinal in Charleston, USA. It would be the perfect remedy for the highly patriotic Jankovic, determined to battle through fatigue and pain to give Serbia a fighting chance of avoiding the drop to World Group II.
“There is no prize money or WTA points attached to the Fed Cup, but there is also no greater honour than to lead your country in a team event and play for your national colours,” said the world No. 7. “I will try my best and I want to win as many matches as possible, the Heart Award means so much to me because I’ve given all I have in 10 years of playing for the national team,” she added.
But Hantuchova’s win over Jankovic has instilled a fresh breath of confidence in the world No. 23, who believes Slovakia can come out on top against Serbia and mount a serious challenge for the trophy next season.
“The outcome of that match gives me confidence but Jankovic is a top player who can beat anybody and it will be a very tough match in front of her fans,” the 23-year-old Slovak said. “But I am ready to fight and if we stay in the top tier, it would be an awesome feeling and it would also give us a chance to win the Fed Cup again,” she added. “Doing that for my country was one of the greatest feelings ever and it would be nice to do it again.”
The full draw for the weekend is as follows:
Jelena Jankovic (SRB) v Magdalena Rybarikova (SVK)
Bojana Jovanovski (SRB) v Daniela Hantuchova (SVK)
Jelena Jankovic (SRB) v Daniela Hantuchova (SVK)
Bojana Jovanovski (SRB) v Magdalena Rybarikova (SVK)
Jelena Jankovic/Ana Jovanovic (SRB) v Daniela Hantuchova/Magdalena Rybarikova (SVK)