The United States, Belgium and Serbia are improbable bedfellows, but they share an unusual distinction; at one time or other each country has been able to claim the best two female tennis players on the planet. This is not remotely surprising in the case of the US, pretty surprising for Belgium, and downright astounding in the case of Serbia, which has a population less than a sixth the size of Britain's and more significantly, was ravaged by war around the time that Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic, recently ranked one and two in the world, were discovering their colossal talent for the game.
Ivanovic, of course, is out of the hunt for the Venus Rosewater Dish, her Wimbledon curtailed in the first week just as it was for Novak Djokovic, her fellow Serb and world No 3 among the men. Which leaves only the second seed Jankovic flying her country's red, white and blue flag, only Jankovic able to extend Serbia's remarkable success in this year's Grand Slams, following Djokovic's win at the Australian Open, and Ivanovic's at Roland Garros.
She needs no reminding that she is the only one of the golden triumvirate yet to win a Grand Slam singles title, and for a while in her third-round match on Saturday against the Danish prodigy Caroline Wozniacki her campaign for this one looked doomed. That would have put the tin lid on a terrible week for all Serbian tennis fans, which is more or less all Serbians. But eventually the tide turned, and she won 2-6, 6-4, 6-2, albeit in less than convincing fashion, and carrying an injury to her left knee sustained early in the first set. At one set all she requested a medical time-out during which the knee was swathed in enough bandaging to keep Holby City A&E going for a month, but a few games later she decided, not surprisingly, that it was more a hindrance than a help, whereupon the miles of bandaging were whipped off again.
This medical soap opera was not the first bit of extra-curricular entertainment to which the Centre Court crowd had been treated. Before the match, the BBC's Sue Barker introduced the many famous personages from the worlds of sport and entertainment filling the Royal Box on what has become known as "celebrity Saturday". They included Sir Bobby Charlton, Sir Bobby Robson, Sir Geoff Hurst, Sir Steve Redgrave, Sir Matthew Pinsent, Lord Coe and Dame Kelly Holmes, as well as plain Tim Henman, Denise Lewis, David Hemery, Jonathan Edwards and Danny Cipriani, and luminaries from overseas including Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova and Sachin Tendulkar. A veritable galaxy of sporting stars, yet none of them (except possibly Henman) got a cheer half as resounding as the one given to Sir Terry Wogan. Sometimes Wimbledon is almost a parody of itself. Even for those of us who hold Wogan in high regard, it was a reminder that Centre Court, despite its SW19 postcode, really is the epicentre of Middle England.
Still, Middle England has always shown its appreciation for those who make it smile, and that goes for Jankovic too, who so memorably, and so engagingly, grinned and giggled and flirted her way to the mixed doubles title with Jamie Murray last year. Against most other leading players, a pretty 17-year-old blonde from Copenhagen might have enjoyed the bulk of the support, but Jankovic's place in the hearts of the Centre Court crowd is forever secure.
Whether she will secure the place in the final that she is seeded to reach may well depend on whether she can overcome the defending champion Venus Williams, who increasingly looks like the woman to beat in the bottom half of the draw, in the quarter-final. The older Williams sister is one of only three players in the top 10 against whom Jankovic has more career wins than defeats, but on the other hand, Venus is infinitely more comfortable on grass. Jankovic, despite her mixed-doubles success, still regards the green stuff with suspicion. She has never made it beyond the fourth round here.
If she is to do so this time, and put the flutter back into that Serbian flag after the exits of her two compatriots, she must now get past the splendidly-named Tamarine Tanasugarn, of Thailand, who is contesting her 12th consecutive Wimbledon at the almost geriatric age, for women's tennis these days, of 31. Let us hope that the Serb's troublesome knee takes the strain. She thought after Saturday's contest that it probably would, but was quick to point out her next opponent's aptitude on this surface. "She plays very flat, she plays very low," she said. "Most of the players say this is where she plays best."Reuse content