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Jankovic rallies past Wozniacki

Serbian beats 18-year-old from Denmark, 3-6, 6-2, 6-1, in a fourth-round match of the U.S. Open.

September 01, 2008|Chuck Culpepper | Special to The Times

NEW YORK -- After an absurd 11 deuces in the last game of yet another melodramatic win the other day, the top woman left at the U.S. Open soon encountered her mother, a scene proverbial in the distressed annals of tennis.

Only this mother practiced an art quite rare in a cold, cold sport: She kidded.

"Do you like your mom?" Snezana Jankovic bellowed.

"Of course," said Jelena Jankovic, catching on.

Then, in typical family din and jest, Snezana said, "Why do you do [that] to me, you don't finish the match! You wanted me to stay in the sun and die slowly!"

The No. 2 player in the world laughed, of course, because that's what the Jankovics do just about all day long. If you gaze across the tables in player lounges from Paris to New York, you might stop at a Serbian family and its chronic grins and guffaws.

"We always make a joke," Snezana said. "Always make a joke. Always, always, always."

So as this U.S. Open figures to measure Jelena again at age 23, as she graces the quarterfinals after yet another melodrama -- 3-6, 6-2, 6-1 on Sunday over onrushing 18-year-old Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark -- and as sages belittle her recent No. 1 ranking because she's yet to reach a Grand Slam event final, she unquestionably already has brought tennis one rare infusion -- humor.

After the kind of three-set French Open semifinal loss that could keep you up nights for years, Jankovic was asked what she'd do. She broke up the room when she deadpanned, "Kill myself?"

After an injury-addled fourth-round Wimbledon loss on outside court No. 18, Jankovic broke up the room when she complained, "I almost need a helicopter to go to my court."

"I like to joke around, I like to laugh a lot," and in the players' areas, "I'm always probably the loudest one," Jankovic said, adding that she finds levity "important" and, "If you're not doing that, none of this is worth it."

It makes her snug in the commotion of New York, as with Andy Roddick, the No. 8 male whose excellence here persisted to such degree on Sunday -- 6-2, 7-5, 7-6 (4) over Andreas Seppi of Italy -- that he said, "For the first time in a while, I feel, like, match-tough."

Then there's the four-time-defending champion Roger Federer, who looked an awful lot like Roger Federer in a 6-3, 6-3, 6-2 win over No. 30 Radek Stepanek, then said a title could restore "the invincibility factor again, which is great for me."

There's No. 3-ranked returning finalist Novak Djokovic, who fought through the scary 19-year-old Croatian Marin Cilic, 6-7 (7), 7-5, 6-4, 7-6 (0).

And there's surging Olympic champion Elena Dementieva, whose stout fourth-round assignment against Na Li of China became a virtuoso 6-4, 6-1 win that hinted at a hungry eventual semifinal between No. 6-ranked Dementieva and Jankovic.

That would be Jankovic's fifth berth in a final four, a huge juncture in her career and, well, fun, by mother's mandate. After that French Open loss to Ana Ivanovic from a 3-1 lead in the third set, Jankovic freely told everyone she'd just finished a colossal cry. Snezana had told her to stop and said, "Every tear which you have is like needle in my heart."

The economist mother of three briefly mentions Serbia's wars of the 1990s and speaks of gratefulness. Hubbub abounds as she answers one of her three mobile phones to hear a friend in Serbia joking, "Who is that man you were kissing on the TV?"

In a recent conversation, she queried a parent of another player: "What do you need in life to be happy? You are winning, you have money, you are family. What do you need more to be happy?"

And the parent told her, basically "Different day, same [stuff]."

And she just found that silly.



Featured matches

Today at the U.S. Open. World rankings in parentheses:

* Venus Williams (8) vs. Agnieszka Radwanska, Poland (11) -- Radwanska says her success has hit Poland "like a big bomb," while Williams has received such a warm reception when playing there that she said, "I thought maybe my last name was Williams-owski or something." Looks as if it's the match of the year in Warsaw.

* Serena Williams (3) vs. Severine Bremond, France (121) -- Williams has shown such dispatch -- three matches, three hours -- that if you went to one of the populous food stands, you might miss this whole thing. Especially at the Ben & Jerry's.

* Rafael Nadal, Spain (1) vs. Sam Querrey (55) -- Querrey took a set off Nadal in 2006. They've both improved mightily since, with one case of improvement particularly frightening.

* Gael Monfils, France (33) vs. Mardy Fish (35) -- In a breakthrough, Fish defeated James Blake in the Saturday night late show, meaning he doesn't have to demote his friend in the groomsman order for Fish's upcoming wedding.

* Andy Murray, Great Britain (6) vs. Stanislas Wawrinka, Switzerland (10) --The most high-brow matchup has a Scot who has taken to flexing his biceps after big wins and a Swiss whose previous opponent wouldn't shake hands because Wawrinka mocked his injury during the match. And to think some people say tennis has grown too polite.

* Juan Martin Del Potro, Argentina (17) vs. Kei Nishikori, Japan (126) -- It's a 19-year-old lightning bolt with 22 consecutive match wins and four consecutive titles against an 18-year-old riser who weathered a five-set fracas with No. 4 David Ferrer. Sheesh, these kids!

-- Chuck Culpepper

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