Jelena Jankovic walked off court at 9:41 on Wednesday night after winning a long three-set match over Roberta Vinci. She walked back onto the same court less than 15 hours later, to face a woman, Maria Sharapova, whom she had beaten once in eight previous attempts. That fact alone tells you pretty much everything you need to know about Sharapova’s subsequent 63-minute, 6-2, 6-1 semifinal win on Thursday. Because of craven scheduling, a potentially exciting semifinal between two former No. 1s ended up being as flat, listless, and unsuspenseful as any tennis match played this year.
That’s not to take anything away from Sharapova’s performance. She came in having won 10 straight matches and 20 consecutive sets dating back to February, and you could see why. She was relentless, yet never risky, in her aggression. She knocked Jankovic back methodically, and finished many points with her forehand, a shot that still seems to be improving despite Maria’s advanced tennis age of 25. Sharapova dominated both sides of the ball: She won 23 of 25 points on her first serve, and 16 of 29 points on Jankovic’s first serve. She broke JJ's serve six of the eight times she faced it. And she was smart: After double-faulting on the first point when she was trying to serve out the first set at 5-2, Sharapova dialed back the pace on her delivery, got her first serve in, and held handily for the set.
But this was less than a fair fight. Jankovic, who won just one point in the first three games, had no energy from start to finish, and never showed any belief that she could turn it around. She never called her coach/brother out to talk tactics, which she usually does. And aside from a mysterious grumble about a noise in the crowd, she didn’t even have any complaints, about her play or anything else. You know there’s something wrong with JJ when that happens. The Sony Open and ESPN understandably wanted to have the other semifinal, which features Serena Williams, in the evening, but Jankovic and the afternoon ticket-holders paid the price for it.
Sharapova, who has a chance to return to the No. 1 ranking, reached her third straight final, and fifth overall, in Miami, a tournament that she's never won. She’ll play the winner of tonight’s match between Serena and Agniezska Radwanska. I think I have an idea of who she’ll be rooting for in that one.