Novak Djokovic’s Adria Tour exhibition event hasn’t just brought a slew of ATP stars out of lockdown and back onto the courts this week. It’s also brought a very notable WTA star back into the spotlight.
Jelena Jankovic, a former world No. 1, hasn’t played on the tour since the 2017 US Open, sidelined by injury, but she was back on the exhibition court in Belgrade on Friday, playing a mixed doubles match alongside Djokovic. The star pair defeated Nenad Zimonjic and Olga Danilovic, 7-6 (5).
“It was a great feeling to be back out there after almost three years, especially to be sharing the court with Novak,” Jankovic told tennis.com. “I was very happy to be here in front of my home crowd, and in my home city. It was a special moment after such a long time. I’m thankful to Novak for inviting me, and for organizing such a beautiful event, especially with these difficult times that we’re in right now.”
For over a decade, Jankovic was a fixture in the upper echelon of the women’s game. Not only did she spend 18 weeks at No. 1 across 2008 and 2009, she was actually the year-end No. 1 in 2008. She was ranked in the Top 10 as recently as 2014, and still in the Top 20 as recently as 2016.
But the Serbian stopped her 2017 season after the US Open, then missed 2018 and 2019 entirely.
“I stopped because I had a big injury with my back. It took me quite some time to function in a normal way in general, just to live a normal life,” she said. “But now I feel good. I’m happy. I’m excited. We’ll see... In these times it’s difficult to plan things. But all I can say is that I’m healthy, and I’m happy to be out here. I had a great time being back on the court after so long. It was great to feel that atmosphere again, that adrenaline, just being in front of the crowd and performing. It was amazing.
“You know, I never officially retired. So my door is open.”
Though she was admittedly rusty on Friday, Jankovic has a knack for mixed doubles. She’s a Grand Slam champion in that discipline, winning Wimbledon in 2007 alongside Great Britain’s Jamie Murray.
“I didn’t have a chance to hit before this because I was in Dubai in quarantine,” Jankovic said. “We were able to move around, but we couldn’t play tennis. I also didn’t have racquets! So I came here and just played with the feel I had from before. I think tennis runs in my blood. I don’t think you can forget it, no matter how long you don’t play. And I’m of course out of shape. I get tired after hitting a couple of shots.
“But the excitement is there. That’s the most important thing. I feel like a little kid taking the racquet for the first time, running after the ball. It was amazing. I was always smiling.”
Aside from the aforementioned reign at No. 1, Jankovic reached the final of the 2008 US Open, falling to Serena Williams in a close two-setter. She also has 15 career WTA titles, including one Premier Mandatory at Indian Wells in 2010. Her last WTA title came in Hong Kong in October 2015.
If Jankovic were to return to the tour, she would still be among several of her contemporaries, including Svetlana Kuznetsova, Samantha Stosur, Kim Clijsters and, of course, the Williams sisters.
Emese Kardhordo contributed to this report.