They’re both former No.1s, both a part of the Serbian tennis boom that inspired a new generation of players in their homeland and both possess a natural flair for the dramatic. There are few players who’d share as much in common as Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic.
And yet two of tennis’s best-known women have never seemed naturally friendly, their 10 career meetings played against a backdrop of rumoured iciness. It apparently reached a crescendo when they played their only Grand Slam match in the 2008 French Open semifinal, which also determined the world No.1 ranking.
The winner on that occasion was Ivanovic and along with becoming the first player from her country to climb to the summit of her tennis world, she also claimed to date her only Grand Slam title at Roland Garros. Jankovic, though, has also enjoyed her share of tennis milestones, named as Serbia’s Player of the Year for 2007, 2008 and 2009 and a finalist at the US Open in 2008. She also peaked in the world’s top spot in August of the same year.
The high-rise achievements had a flip side for both players. Crippled at times by the accompanying expectations, Ivanovic never thrived as No.1 and didn’t advance beyond the fourth round of any major until she was a quarterfinalist again at the 2012 US Open. Jankovic maintained some consistency, but slipped outside the top 10 in 2011 and finished world No.22 in 2012.
Ironically, perhaps, it was in a team environment that Ivanovic and Jankovic would achieve a recovery of sorts, the Serbians apparently bonding as they took their country to its first Fed Cup final in history last year.
And thus, Ivanovic and Jankovic have achieved a new common ground, adding a layer of intrigue to today’s third round meeting on Hisense Arena. It’s the Serbians’ first match-up since March 2011, when Ivanovic claimed a 6-4 6-2 victory at Indian Wells, adding to the 7-3 match-winning record that she holds against her countrywoman.
Statistics will favour Ivanovic – who at age 25 is two years younger than Jankovic – again on Friday. Despite the lack of a title (or even a final) in 2012, she finished her season at world No.13, her first top 15 finish since 2008. Jankovic arrives at their 11th career meeting on the back of a second round loss to Roberta Vinci in Sydney and a three-set struggle against Maria Joao Koehler in the Australian Open’s second round.
Ivanovic and Jankovic have each been careful to avoid the inevitable hype that accompanies Friday’s high-stakes encounter. “To be honest I’m not thinking too far ahead. I just want to go one match at a time and we see how it goes,” said Jankovic after her first round win. Right now (my coach and I are) just working and trying to get back in form, in the shape. My goal is to get to the top again.”
It’s a grounded approach for a player who is famously known for her expressive emotion; whether Jankovic can maintain that inner calm against an equally spirited competitor in Ivanovic is another story altogether. Ivanovic’s aggressive forehand has long troubled Jankovic’s largely defensive baseline style, but you can’t help sensing that whatever the numbers might say, they’ll start out on equal terms today.
Both players love competing in Australia, both love big stages and both ambitious young women are determined to make Australian Open 2013 the springboard for more career successes.
If you like your matches delivered with drama, this is the one to watch.