Indian Wells: Jankovic d. Wozniacki

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Jelena Jankovic was laid so low by some sort of flu or virus yesterday that, in her own words, she could “barely walk,” never mind practice. Given that this is Jelena Jankovic, it should come as no surprise, then, that today she went out and played a magnificent match to absolutely demolish Caroline Wozniacki in the fourth round at Indian Wells.

The score was 6-3, 6-1, thanks mainly to a 10-straight game run that began immediately after Wozniacki broke Jankovic for a 3-1 lead in the first set.

Both women looked nervous at the start, an understandable state given the rich context of this match. Both women are junior Grand Slam champions, and both are big-girl Grand Slam runners-up. Both have finished a calendar year ranked No. 1. And both have struggled after attaining that pinnacle only to be haunted by their failure to win the big one.

The micro-cosmic details were no less compelling. After winning their first four meetings, Jankovic lost five in a row to Wozniacki, until today. Both women are former champions at Indian Wells: Jankovic beat Wozniacki in the 2010 final; Wozniacki, who was the runner up in the desert last year, beat Marion Bartoli to win the 2011 title.

Perhaps most pertinent, a loss today ensured that Wozniacki, currently No. 11, would drop to at least No. 16, while a win by the resurgent Jankovic would guarantee a rise from No. 8 to No. 5.

With so much riding on this one, the odds would favor the bold. And after that initial four-game feeling-out process, Jankovic took charge. And in nearly equal measure, Wozniacki shrank back until she was too far behind for a renewed push to make much difference.

At her best, as Jankovic was for most of the match today, it seems impossible that she’s never won a major. She moves and defends beautifully. Her groundstrokes are crisp, exceedingly clean, and laced with enough power to jerk any player all over the court. Granted, her serve has always been a relative liability, but today it held up nicely, especially in the last few games, when it rescued her from a number of potentially tricky situations.

Jankovic’s 10-game run began when Wozniacki made back-to-back, third-shot forehand errors to allow the break that left the Serb with serve to come at 2-3. In the next game, it was less Jankovic’s aggressive modality than Wozniacki’s nerves that yielded a four-point hold. In that game, Wozniacki made three dreadful forehand errors—it was her weaker shot all day—and just like that, the floodgates opened.

Over the ensuing six games, Jankovic unloaded a barrage of deep, relatively flat, stinging groundstrokes, and she moved like a river running bank full. After she built her lead to 6-3, 3-0, Piotr Wozniacki jogged onto the court and advised his shell-shocked daughter to be “more aggressive.”

Thus, the very next point, the first of a Wozniacki service game, was telling. Wozniacki took a Jankovic return and followed a solid approach shot to the net. She cut off a Jankovic pass with a nice volley, but the No. 7 seed ripped a cross-court pass off it to win the point.

So much for going aggressive against the aggressor.

Wozniacki wouldn’t win a point in that game as Jankovic hit a winning smash, Wozniacki smacked a double fault, and Jankovic tagged the next serve with an un-returnable forehand.

That pretty much sealed Wozniacki’s fate, although the 23-year old Dane, seeded No. 10, managed a face-saving hold in the sixth game to avoid a 12-game run by Jankovic.

Is Indian Wells the fifth Grand Slam? Is Grigor Dimitrov the next Roger Federer? Plus, instruction and gear advice, and a look at the lighter side of the game, in this week's Tennis Tuesday.


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