by Bobby Chintapalli, TW Contributing Editor
If you’re reading this you’ve probably been following the Family Circle Cup in Charleston, and if you’re following Charleston you’ve likely heard that Daniela Hantuchova beat Jelena Jankovic 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 in the quarterfinals. Hantuchova, who’s ranked Number 25 but was ranked as high as Number 5 in 2003, earned her third clay court win over a Top 10 player and a spot in the semifinals against Sam Stosur. Jankovic, who’s ranked Number 7 and won her 12th singles title at Indian Wells last month, lost a match many expected her to win. The rest of this is about the stuff – and especially the sounds – you may not have heard reading a quick match summary or watching a live stream.
The Surprising Silence of Jelena Jankovic
When you think of Jankovic you think of impressive movement, backhands down the line, even glitter – what you don’t think of is silence. Yet when she hits the ball, even late in a third set, she makes almost no noise. You can see she’s working hard, but you can’t hear the effort. After longer points later in the match, you can hear her breathing a bit more heavily. (And it’s oddly comforting to know that even a woman who seems like she can run forever – and even wants to – gets winded sometimes.) During the point though the only thing you really hear is the sound of the ball coming off her racquet, and it sounds lovely. Maybe it’s partly because she’s hitting the ball so cleanly and partly because her own silence allows you to hear that more clearly.
You wonder if her opponents hear her ball so well too and whether they can do something with that “information”. A few times today it seemed like Hantuchova made the most of it when she did actually hear from Jankovic. Down 3-5 and 15-15 in the third set Jankovic got caught on her back foot in the back of the court as she tried to get to yet another heavy, well-placed ball from Hantuchova. Jankovic managed to get it back, exclaiming “ay” as she did. It’s hard to know if Hantuchova had time to process that sound, but what’s clear is that a few seconds later Hantuchova won the point with a dropshot.
Between points we all know Jankovic can be quite chatty. Up 3-0 in the second set but facing a break point, Hantuchova belted an ace. Soon afterwards began what any casual Jankovic watcher recognizes as perhaps the most quintessential Jankovic phenomenon, the Monologue to Mom. Based on what Hantuchova said in the post-match presser, she heard some of this, and it helped her: “Well, obviously I heard her talking to herself a little bit. I didn’t understand what she was saying, but obviously that helps when it’s hot and it’s a tough situation of the match to see that your opponent is maybe a little negative, and that just gave me a little more energy to fight even harder.”
The Surprising Sound of Daniela Hantuchova
When Hantuchova strikes the ball, from the first games to the last, you can hear the effort. She makes some noise – it’s not as loud as Maria Sharapova’s or as long as Victoria Azarenka’s, but it’s there every time. It’s surprising because everything else about her seems so muted. There are glances at the box, but they’re quick. There are fist pumps, but they’re small. Down 1-4, receiving serve on game point, she hit a big return for a winner. Down 1-5, serving on break point, she served a 100 mph ace. Both times the crowd clapped, and both times Hantuchova walked quietly to the other side of the court in preparation for the next point.
Waiting to receive serve Jankovic looks almost menacing, or at least as menacing as a 5’9” woman in a bright green dress can look. She stands there, feet firmly planted but moving her legs nonstop, her back broad and muscular despite having lost some of the muscle she complained about last year. You get the sense she can’t wait for her opponent to serve, because she can’t wait to attack. Hantuchova on the other hand can wait and seems like she wants to in order to have more time with her thoughts. Before she receives serve she sometimes turns around and goes to the back of the court to look at her strings and consider her next move. I’ve heard a commentator say Hantuchova started this “trend” of turning her back to the server until she’s ready to receive, essentially causing the match to be played at the returner’s pace when it’s supposed to be played at the server’s. (You see Maria Sharapova do this now, Ana Ivanovic too. Maybe they’re trying to control the pace or buy a little extra time, maybe not.) Mostly it seems Hantuchova wants the same thing Vera Zvonareva wants when she puts a towel over her head during changeovers – some alone time to think in a stadium full of people watching her every move. You sense Hantuchova, unlike Jankovic, doesn’t like to think out loud or when it’s loud.
In this match her tennis made the biggest noise. The day before Hantuchova played the longest match of the tournament, a 164-minute match against Angelique Kerber on Althea Gibson Court under an especially hot sun that was exhausting even to watch. Then she was scheduled first on the stadium for this match. She acknowledged she used the frustration about all that to fuel her play: “I wanted to make up for yesterday and definitely tried to play a much better game, which I did. I was really going for the backhand, and it felt pretty good today.” Sometimes players – and the rest of us too – use yelling and screaming and Twitter to vent. Yesterday Daniela Hantuchova used her backhand.