NEW YORK—Clad in a canary-colored dress, Jelena Jankovic blended in with the yellow uniforms worn by the security crew circling the court. The 11th-seeded Serbian spent much of today’s U.S. Open first-round match providing Alison Riske with a guided tour of the Grandstand, reeling off the final eight games in a decisive, 58-minute, 6-2, 6-0 dismissal of the American wild card.
Looking fit and playing fast, the 2008 Flushing Meadows finalist crowded the baseline to take the ball early and send Riske scurrying from corner to corner, often punctuating points with her signature shot, the down-the-line backhand.
Jankovic burst out of the blocks quickly, collecting a 4-1 lead just 20 minutes into the match and muting a crowd eager to exhort the 21-year-old blonde from Hilton Head, South Carolina. The 117th-ranked Riske, who registered her best result in reaching the Birmingham quarters in June, was making her main-draw debut at the Open and looked tight at times, spitting serves beyond the box and scattering running, cross-court shots past the sidelines.
At her best, Jankovic is a precision player adept at working the angles to create space for her dagger backhand. She played clean tennis today in hitting 17 winners against nine unforced errors. Riske never found her range, producing seven winners against 21 unforced errors, including six double faults.
Though her two-handed backhand is a fluid shot, Riske’s forehand is a work in progress. She does not always extend through the shot and sometimes pulls up on the follow through, like someone trying brush a bumble bee off their forehand. Riske fought off five break points to close to within 2-4, but the game was a final reprieve as Jankovic, who is far more accurate hitting on the run, consistently coaxed errors from Riske in her eight-game run.
The former world No. 1 continuously probed the corners of the court in winning 24 of the 30 points played in the final set. The only real drama of the match was contemplating how many times Jankovic’s demonstrative coach, Ricardo Sanchez, an exuberant tennis jack-in-the box who can make Guga mentor Larri Passos look placid in comparison, would leap out of his seat in a fist-pumping frenzy.
“I’m very pleased to get through the first round, which can be tough,” Jankovic said in her on-court interview. “I feel pretty good, I’m healthy and enjoying my tennis and playing pretty well too. I just hope to keep it going.”
Jankovic was understandably satisfied, winning 12 of 14 games played and getting off the court in less than an hour, though given the scant resistance Riske provided, it’s difficult to gauge the Cincinnati finalist’s level of play.
Next up for Jankovic is a second-round clash with Jelena Dokic. As she goes deeper into the draw, it will be interesting to see how Jankovic manages the two areas of her game that can be vulnerable against the bigger hitters: Her second serve, and her tendency to sometimes retreat into a defensive shell, relying on her quick court coverage rather than her creativity to play points.