Jankovic crashes out of the Australian Open

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Jelena Jankovic may not have to live much longer with the barbed comments about being a world No 1 without a Grand Slam title to her name. Unfortunately for the Serb, however, that is not because she is on the point of claiming her first major title.

Defeat here today at the hands of Marion Bartoli in the fourth round of the Australian Open has opened the way for any of the next three players in the rankings – Serena Williams, Dinara Safina and Elena Dementieva – to take over at the top when the updated list is published next week.

Bartoli’s 6-1, 6-4 victory was emphatic as the scoreline suggests. The 24-year-old Frenchwoman outpowered the world No 1, who was never in serious contention. Bartoli won the first five games, resisted a brief rally by Jankovic in the second set and finally served out for victory after breaking serve in the penultimate game.

Jankovic, the first female top seed to go out at this stage of the tournament for 12 years, blamed her lack of preparation. Her only scheduled pre-Melbourne appearance was at an exhibition event in Hong Kong, which she was forced to miss because of illness.

“It was very hard for me when I couldn't play some matches over there, which I wanted, just to feel the atmosphere, get the rhythm on the court,” Jankovic said. "I'm the kind of player who needs a little bit of time to get used to it, to get into the routine of playing matches and getting confidence. Then I feel that I can do whatever I want on the court. At the moment I'm still not there.”

Bartoli was on top from the start and even when Jankovic did get into a winning position the Serb was unable to capitalise. Twice in the first set Bartoli came back from 40-0 down to win games. The Frenchwoman treated Jankovic’s ineffective serve with contempt, battering winning returns from both flanks. On some second serves she stood 10 feet inside the baseline.

Although Bartoli can struggle when she is forced out wide, her lack of mobility accentuated by the fact that she plays double-handed on both flanks, Jankovic had neither the power nor the guile to stretch her. The Serb instead served up a diet of half-court balls that Bartoli punished mercilessly.

If the first set was all about Bartoli’s power and Jankovic’s ineffectiveness, it ended on a rare moment of subtlety from the Frenchwoman when she converted her second set point with a delicate drop shot.

After four breaks of serve in the second set, Jankovic’s limited resistance was broken in a marathon ninth game, which Bartoli won on her fourth break point. The world No 19's nerve briefly faltered at 5-4 when she served a double fault at 40-15, but on the next point she hit a forehand winner to secure victory after an hour and 32 minutes.

“I started slowly,” Jankovic said. “I wasn’t moving my feet at all. I was late on many shots. I really wasn’t there for some reason. I don't know why. When I tried to focus and get into the match, things just didn't work out for me.

“She played really well and I just couldn't do what I needed to do. I played it really wrong tactically. I wanted to open up the court a lot more, but I was just putting the ball one metre away from her so that she could step in and hit those shots.”

In contrast to Jankovic, Bartoli has enjoyed a good start to the year. Although she had to pull out of the Sydney tournament with a calf muscle injury, the 2007 Wimbledon runner-up reached the final in Brisbane, where she lost to Victoria Azarenka. She went into today’s match full of confidence, having beaten Jankovic in their two previous meetings.

“I knew I could beat Jelena on a good day,” Bartoli said. “It was just a matter of executing it, playing the right shot at the right time and not making too many mistakes. I wasn’t overwhelmed by the situation. I just went for my shots and everything went in today. It was just a great match. I hung in there when it was the time to hang in there. I returned really well. I served well in the last game. I'm just pleased about everything.”

Jankovic said she enjoyed being world No 1 and would be sorry if she lost the position, although she could stay at the top if the title is not won by any of the three players behind her in the rankings.

The Serb retained a sense of perspective about her defeat. Asked whether she would dwell on it for days or weeks, she replied with a smile: “Months.” She added: “No, I'll try to forget it as soon as possible. It's not so easy when you lose, especially like this, but it's part of the game, part of the sport. You have to just keep going forward and keep learning and improving. That's all.”