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Williams, Jankovic live in the moment

September 07, 2008|Chuck Culpepper | Special to The Times

NEW YORK -- Two women with the flair to carry a moment will intersect at one momentous prime-time juncture tonight inside Arthur Ashe Stadium.

For Serena Williams, it's a return to a U.S. Open final after an absence whose duration of six years pretty much rates as startling. For Jelena Jankovic, it's a first try at a Grand Slam final just one month after her single week at No. 1 drew lampooning because she never had graced such a stage.

For both, it's a chance to reclaim No. 1, and for both, it's another culmination of stardom derived from unlikely beginnings.

Williams, 26, could state her longevity by returning to No. 1 after bouncing around beneath the throne for five years since toppling in 2003. Having come from a childhood in Compton and then Florida, she could extend her family's improbable story by claiming a 16th Williams Grand Slam singles title, nine for herself and seven for her sister, Venus.

"I've been way more consistent," said Serena, whose sister Isha Price has noticed the return of her joy five years after the murder of their sister, Yetunde Price.

"Playing a lot more, having more consistent results, and just putting in the effort . . . it's like I think my results are finally showing," Williams said. "You know, if I don't practice, then it's like my mind goes nuts. It's like, 'I could've been out on the court today.' "

Jankovic, 23, might take her first Grand Slam trophy if she plays the kind of defense that felled Olympic champion Elena Dementieva in the semifinals. Having left Serbia as a child to attend the Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Florida, she could bring her homeland a third Grand Slam singles title this year, with Novak Djokovic having won the Australian Open and Ana Ivanovic the French.

"I know that I can do it, and that's what matters," said Jankovic, known for her good humor and serial smiles.

Says her mother Snezana, who travels with her: "In these circles, if you are not positive, how will you survive?"

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