US Open: Jankovic a study in progress

Semi-finalist back in the classroom to plan graduation to Grand Slam glory
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The Independent Online

For most of the leading players on the women's tour a lull after the US Open will offer the chance to rest. Jelena Jankovic, however, will be working hard, not on the tennis court but in the classroom. The 21-year-old Serb will return to Belgrade to immerse herself in subjects like economics and statistics as she starts the second year of her university degree.

"I don't want to be a typical tennis player who just knows how to hit forehands and backhands," she said. "This career is quite short and I think there is life after tennis. I need to look after my future."

While her desire to better herself is admirable, Jankovic has shown over the last fortnight here that she is capable of enjoying great success in her sport. Her US Open campaign ended when she was beaten by Justine Henin-Hardenne in the semi-finals on Friday night.

She would surely have played in last night's final against Maria Sharapova - a three-sets winner over Amélie Mauresmo in the other semi-final - had she not been distracted by a row with the umpire over line calls when serving at a set, 4-2 and 40-30 up. The No 19 seed promptly served a double fault and did not win another game.

Nevertheless Jankovic will look back on the tournament with great satisfaction. She beat three higher-ranked players in Nicole Vaidisova, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Elena Dementieva while registering her best performance in a Grand Slam event. Her previous best was a run earlier this summer to the fourth round at Wimbledon, where she beat Venus Williams.

Last month Jankovic reached the final in Los Angeles, beating Serena Williams and Ana Ivanovic before losing to Dementieva. She reached three finals last year but has yet to add to her lone tournament victory, in Budapest two years ago.

Studying for a degree while on the tennis circuit may seem a daunting prospect, but Jankovic has found a welcome sense of perspective. Earlier this year she lost 10 matches in a row after a virus and her academic work provided welcome relief.

"I started studying more and doing more exams," she said. "Right now I'm taking it quite slowly, because I'm studying on the road. Maybe when I get back home I will book some appointments for October so that I can do more. My ambition is to finish university."

Born in Belgrade, Jankovic started playing tennis at the age of nine and joined Nick Bollettieri's academy at Bradenton three years later. In Florida she learned the game alongside the likes of Tatiana Golovin, Jamea Jackson and Sharapova.

"It was a good little group," she said. "We pushed each other. We were always competing. The good thing was that we played matches every day. It didn't matter who we were playing - two-year-olds or 50-year-olds, big players, fat players, skinny players, anybody - we were just competing. That's the good thing. You learn how to be competitive from an early age."

Nevertheless, Jankovic almost quit the game during her bad run. "I'm quite a competitive person and I didn't like losing so many matches," she said. "I don't want to just be in the draw and lose in the first round every time. If I can't go far in tournaments and compete with the best players and be a champion I don't want to play. I was the No 1 junior in the world. After going to the top, I was always climbing up the rankings. When this happened, it was a tough time for me. I'm a bad loser. It hurts a lot."

The turnaround came with a run to the quarter-finals in Rome in May. "My mother hadn't been travelling with me but she came to Rome," Jankovic said. "Every time I'd lost a match she would give me support and tell me that I have the potential to succeed. I'm so grateful that even in those bad times my parents were with me and giving me support. Without them I wouldn't be here."

"Since Rome I've had a different feeling. I've won something like 30 matches out of 40. It's been amazing. But I think some things are meant to happen. Maybe if I didn't lose 10 matches in a row I wouldn't have reached the semi-finals here."

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