Jelena Jankovic was born February 28, 1985, in Belgrade, Serbia. The youngest of three children, she began taking tennis lessons when she was 9 years old. “I decided to play tennis not because I wanted to be a professional player, but because my parents wanted me to get involved in something so I wouldn’t be running around the streets in Serbia,” she admits. Despite their rationale, Jelena Jankovic excelled at her new sport, and within two years, she had already won her first junior national championship.
Jelena Jankovic’s stunning success convinced her parents that she had a true future in the sport, and they enrolled her at the Florida-based tennis academy of famed instructor Nick Bollettieri. Although she appreciated the opportunity, Jelena Jankovic admits that it wasn’t easy adapting to a new country and culture. “I didn’t know a word of English,” she says. “My Mum would sometimes come and stay, and then she would leave because she had to go back to work. Those days when she left were very hard. I was very shy and introverted. I became so closed in myself because I was in a different country with a different language.”
Jelena Jankovic eventually settled in and by 2001 she was named the No. 1 junior player in the world following a series of resounding victories at the Australian Open and the U.S. Open. Her success on the junior circuit convinced her she was ready for the big time, and she turned pro the following year, in 2002. Unfortunately, the quality of the competition proved to be more than she could handle, and Jelena Jankovic finished her first professional season ranked a disappointing 197th in the ultra-competitive Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) standings.
Jelena Jankovic soon found her form, and she won her first professional title in November 2003 by capturing the ITF tournament in Dubai. Her unexpected victory sent shock waves throughout the tour and allowed her to crack the WTA’s top 100 for the first time in her career. Jelena Jankovic further solidified her reputation as a star on the rise by winning her first WTA title at a tournament in Budapest in May 2004. She finished the year ranked 51st in the world thanks to a series of resounding victories over top 20 players such as Elena Dementieva, Nadia Petrova, Vera Zvonareva, Paola Suarez, and Patty Schnyder.
Jelena Jankovic continued to climb up the rankings in 2005 after impressive showings at the DFS Classic, the German Open and the Dubai Tennis Championships, where she defeated American champion Serena Williams before bowing out to Lindsay Davenport in the finals. Although she failed to win any major events, her performance against the world’s elite players earned her a year-end top 25 ranking.
2006 got off to a rocky start as Jelena Jankovic lost 9 of her first 10 matches. “I was just miserable,” she says. “I got depressed and couldn’t recover. I would go on court with my face down, which was not like me. It’s hard enough losing once, but nine times in a row!” Fortunately she managed to regain her stroke in Rome where she reached the quarterfinals of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia before losing to Venus Williams in three hard-fought sets. Jelena Jankovic turned in similarly impressive performances at the French Open, Wimbledon, the JP Morgan Chase Open, and the U.S. Open, where she crushed three top 10 players before losing to Justine Henin in the semifinals. Her strong finish to an otherwise uneven season earned her a year-end top 15 ranking, and she was named the WTA’s Most Improved Player of the Year.
Jelena Jankovic truly came into her own in 2007 by reaching seven semi-finals, eight finals and winning four titles — all on different surfaces — at the ASB Classic in Auckland, the Family Circle Cup in Charleston, South Carolina, the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome, and the DFS Classic title in Birmingham, England, where she downed top-seeded Maria Sharapova in the final. She also teamed up with Scottish sensation Jamie Murray to win her first Grand Slam title in mixed doubles at Wimbledon. Jelena Jankovic’s spectacular performance allowed her to jump from 12th place in the WTA rankings to 3rd, and she was named the top female athlete in her native country by Serbia’s Olympic Committee.
2008 was another banner year for Jelena Jankovic, as she finally achieved the top ranking in the world on August 11th before surrendering the title one week later to fellow Serb Ana Ivanovic. Jelena Jankovic regained her status as the world’s top female player again on October 6, 2008, following her impressive tournament victories at the China Open and the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix. She continued her strong play one week later at the Kremlin Cup in Moscow, winning her third tournament in as many weeks.
Jelena Jankovic finished the year on a high note on November 6, 2008, when she was named the WTA Tour’s year-end No. 1 singles player. “Every time I go on the court I feel like I’m the No.1 player in the world, and I go with that confidence,” she says. “I just believe in my game and in myself. I just keep going, and I would like to keep winning as long as it is possible.”
Jelena Jankovic will begin the 2009 tennis season at the Sydney Medibank International Tennis Tournament on January 12, 2009.