On a cold day in Belgrade, Jelena Jankovic warmed the hearts of all Serbian tennis fans with a remarkable recovery in the second singles rubber against Russia.
Having seen her compatriot Ana Ivanovic lose in straights sets to the leading Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova, Jankovic fought back from a perilous position to beat Alisa Kleybanova in three sets and level the tie at 1-1 going into the second day.
In the first singles rubber Ivanovic, who had won five of her six previous meetings with Kuznetsova, made a very nervous start against the world No.4. She dropped the first five games and although she saved one set point in the next on her serve, she lost the opening set 61.
Serbia’s No.2 then made a better showing in the second set and broke Kuznetsova for the first time to lead 42. But having done so, that was as far as Ivanovic got, the current Roland Garros champion powering back to take the set 64, clinching victory with a smash.
“It was very hard to play her, especially as she plays at home,” said Kuznetsova. “In first set she was very nervous and I played better. In the second set she came up. But I managed to keep up the level and to play important points better and even though I was a break down still I managed to win.”
Jankovic thrills crowd with comeback
When Kuznetsova’s young team-mate, the 20 year-old Kleybanova, led Jankovic 64 41 and 15-40 on the Serb’s serve, it looked like Russia would go into the second day 2-0 up. But having forged so far ahead with her own barrage of winners, Kleybanova suddenly felt the full force of a Serbian surge right back at her, both from the other side of the net and from the stands.
Roared on by the large crowd, Jankovic rewarded her fans’ loyal support with a stunning recovery, winning 11 games on the trot. Kleybanova did not roll over as she had a number of chances to break back in the decider, but she just could not produce the telling shot when she needed it most and Jankovic maintained her momentum for a stunning win which amazed everyone, including her.
“I just said to myself I’m going to go out there, just play aggressive, and go for my shots and try to move my feet as much as I can and fight for every point. It’s not over until it’s over and, you know, it worked and especially with the help of the crowd, they really motivated me and it helped me get through this match. It’s really an amazing feeling.”
Jankovic, who showed no signs of the back injury which had threatened her participation in the tie, must now prepare for Sunday’s first reverse singles against Kuznetsova. Expect another battle as the Russian leads their head-to-head series 5-4.
If Jankovic prevails then Ivanovic could turn her disappointment into delight by beating Kleybanova and sealing a place in the semifinals. But they have split their two previous encounters and this exciting tie could certainly go the distance with the Serbian stars having to pair up against Vera Dushevina and Anastasia Kleybanova in a deciding doubles rubber.