It was time for Jelena Jankovic to go home after she had raided the last remnants of her medicine cabinet. To the vast roll of bandages which had supported her left knee through the third round, where she jarred it, were added anti-inflammatories and an elaborate sticking plaster pattern which was draped around it today. Tissues accompanied her out after each end change and when things were really looking down she grabbed at a pack of energy tablets thrust out by her coach
There is nothing to take for a simmering sense of injustice, of course. The No 2 seed was cast out to Court 18 for her match with unseeded Tamarine Tanasugarn and her thoughts on that, delivered in Serbian during the course of defeat which concludes Serbia’s shot at a singles title of either description this year, translated as: “They might as well have put me on Court 38.”
Jankovic had much more to say on the subject in English after the match; insisting that she had asked to start late in the day for her to rest her knee and that a seed of her standing deserved Centre or Court One. “I was almost playing in the parking lot. I almost need a helicopter to go to my court,” she said.
Tanasugarn, who has been eliminated from Wimbledon’s fourth round enough times (five) to have probably had a second Monday airline ticket booked months ago, has struggled for so long below the elite level to have no conception of helicopter travel and Jankovic’s inability to progress past her was shocking - jarred knee or none; Centre Court or public park.
The Thai’s second serve hovered around 73mph for much of the match and dipped to 69mph when she served for the match at 5-2 in the second set. Jankovic sent that one back out of court and it was characteristic of a performance riddled with her own unforced errors, that she never punished the world No 60’s patent lack of power.
The left knee, already strapped before she jarred it on Saturday, had been subjected to MRI scans, steam therapies and ice packs before her match and - though she claimed later that doctors had questioned the wisdom of even starting her match - had seemed inconspicuous until Jankovic looked in danger. But Tanasugarn tested it to the full, sending the Serbian east and west across the court, and it was when 5-2 down in the first set that Jankovic first prodded at it tentatively. Serving at 30-30 in the next game, she also tried a racket change, which made more of a difference. But facing three set points in the eighth home the Serb stumbled at the back of the court. Within seconds, the first set was gone and the trainer was on.
Tanasugarn had problems of her own - she was briefly prostrate on court with her own trainer prodded away at her back - but Jankovic’s frustration was telling. “It’s so difficult. It’s a shit serve,” she shrieked. Spot on, considering the service in question had been just been sent down to her short and at 72mph. So why hadn’t she managed to send it back? A shock finally looked on when Jankovic was broken again for a second time in the second set. She finally rallied to break back for 5-2 but by then it was too late to save a 6-2 pasting.
Jankovic, like Ivanovich and Novak Djokovic, seems to be suffering from the overwhelming mental effects of her rapid rise to fame and Serbian Tennis Federation president Slobodan Zivojinovic, who looked on, knew it. “They came through very fast,” he said as she left the court. “They all need to rest a little.”
Tanasugarn doesn't need rest. She spent a good ten minutes posing for overwhelmed Far East tennis fans after the match and her victory, taking her through to play Venus Williams, is another development in a wonderful fortnight for Asian tennis, with Zheng Jie also progressing to within one win of becoming the first Chinese player to make a Grand Slam singles’ semi-final.
But Tanasugarn is no Zheng Jie. Her views on facing Williams – “She’s always kicked my butt; I’m just happy to be in the quarters” - reveals how unexpected her progress is and, with the exception of the women called Williams, how little depth there seems to be in the women’s game when the Serbians and Maria Sharapova wilt.
Jankovic drew Venus Williams, consigned to Court 2 yesterday to face Russian Alisa Kleybanova, into her attack on the Wimbledon Referees’ Office. “I don’t know what they are doing, [putting] Venus on No 2 and I’m on No 18,” she said.
The American can claim to know a bit more about this, having lost to Jankovic on Court 2 two years ago. But while the Serbian is going home Williams is easing towards a final and can seemingly play anywhere. “No matter where we play, we realise we have to play well,” she said after despatching Kleybanova 6-3, 6-4 in less than an hour and a half.