Nate Chura is senior tennis pro at the Heights Casino in Brooklyn and covers the U.S. Open for WNYC.
Jelena Jankovic, the fourth seed, nearly got walloped by upstart Simona Halep in the first round of the U.S. Open this afternoon. Jankovic pulled ahead at the last moment and stole the win, 6-4, 4-6, 7-5. After 2 hours and 20 minutes, the Serbian former-world No. 1 could, at last, breathe easy. She triumphantly blasted a few balls into the stands before exiting Ashe Stadium.
“It was a tough match,” a relieved Jankovic said in the press room. “For me, those first matches are always the toughest. It was really hot and windy. My opponent played really well. She was putting a lot of balls in the court. She didn't really make many mistakes, and I really had to work for every point. But I wasn't, you know, playing my best tennis. I was just trying to find my rhythm, do my best to get through. I'm happy that I was able to get through this match. It was a really tough one for me.”
The turning point in the match may have come at 2-all in the third set on Jankovic’s serve. She hit a backhand wide and found herself down 0-30. “What are you doing??!” she cried in desperation. “What is this???!” The scream seemed to work. Jankovic came back to hold. But that was not the end.
Halep would continue to badger Jankovic with her relentless attacking serving and ground-stroking. Halep managed to break the Serb at 4-all and served for the match in the next game. That’s when Jankovic pumped herself up again.
“I just said to myself,” Jankovic recalled, “there are days when you're not going to be feeling the ball, you're not going to be moving your feet. In those days, you just really have to fight and really have to try your best and give your maximum and try to get through these kind of matches. If you are able to do that, then it gives you a lot more confidence for the next round.”
Jankovic won three straight games to move one step closer to the final. She’ll play German Mirjana Lucic in the next round.
It took 11th-seed Svetlana Kuznetsova slightly less time to outlast her Japanese foe, the 40-year-old, journeywoman Kimiko Date Krumm. After dropping the second set, Kuznetsova—the 2004 U.S. Open champ—finished with an exclamation point, besting the 51st ranked player in the world 6-2, 4-6, 6-1 on the Grandstand to advance to the second round.
On paper, the match looked like it would be a blowout. How could the aging Date Krumm possibly beat the two-time Grand Slam champion Kuznetsova? The Russian had plenty to say about such notions.
“It was very hard to play somebody you never played before,” Kuznetsova said, “especially, you know, that she's good. It's not like junior or somebody. It's a player who played before, and I didn't realize that she plays very different game from everybody who I've played ever. I know, as well, that Dinara lost to her twice, and she's uncomfortable to play against.”
She went on to elaborate, “Her swing of the racquet is very different. First two games I was just trying to understand how she managed to do that. It was interesting. It was good experience.”
Good experience aside, the Russian was in real danger of getting tossed from the tournament. All of a sudden, the match was even. Ultimately, the key to turning it around was in Kuznetsova’s feet.
“ I just start moving,” she said. “I think I slowed down a little bit my legs, and without my legs I can't play. This is what happen with me in the second set. I just lost two breaks of serve, and that's it. It was a little bit hard to serve very well against the sun, but then I just get used to it. I convince myself I have to get back and play better. For sure, I'm very happy with the third set.”
Other seeds that advanced today included Agnieszka Radwanska, Yanina Wickmayer , and Aravane Rezai .