When Jelena Jankovic came to Dubai for her pre-season training at the end of 2012, it was the first time she had finished a season outside the top-20 in six years, and clearly that didn’t go down well with her.
It was a low point and, speaking at the time, she spelled out her determination to turn things around and somehow you could tell she really meant it.
Fast forward a little over 12 months and Jankovic finds herself ranked No7 in the world, having ended the year with a final showing in Beijing and semi-final appearance at the WTA Championships, falling to world No1 Serena Williams both times.
During the season, she ended a three-year title drought by lifting the trophy in Bogota, made the quarter-finals at Roland Garros and reached finals in Charleston and Beijing.
Jankovic admits it was a year to be proud of, but despite having recaptured her place among the game’s elite, she is still thirsty for more over the next 11 months. The Serb, who will soon turn 29, is looking to step things up once again this season.
“I think you can always do better, nothing will ever be perfect. But I think I’ve come a long way in 2013,” Jankovic said. “It was a comeback year for me. I was able to come back to the top eight after almost falling out of the top 30 at the beginning of the season after getting injured in Australia.
“It was a year where I’ve worked very hard physically and mentally because it was even tougher mentally just to get that belief back. I also needed to get my confidence back, which I’ve lacked in the two years before that.
“So I think it was a big step forward for me and I’m proud of myself and my team that I was able to achieve that. So I hope to add new things to my game this year to continue to work hard and improve.
“Now that I’m here again, back in the top eight. It’s a number but it proves that you’ve done well.
"I would like to do well in the big tournaments, in the Grand Slams, in those premier events. I want to continue to add some new things to my game, improve certain segments in my game to improve even more.
“I’m not really focused on rankings right now, I’m focusing on the quality of my game and just being a better player every day.”
Jankovic has made two semi-finals in Brisbane and Doha already this season, along with a second-week showing at the Australian Open.
The former world No1 is a four-time semi-finalist at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, where she also made the final on debut back in 2005. She’s hoping she can finally go one better and grab the title this week at the Aviation Club.
Jankovic recalls some good memories from her final here nine years ago. “Oh it was a long time ago. I was young. I played against Lindsay Davenport.
“I was about 19 years old. I remember that I played an awesome tournament. It was a wonderful experience for me to be in the finals at that age, at that stage, and I remember I lost 6-4 in the third against Davenport in a great final.
“I’ve been many times a semi-finalist, I think I’ve done pretty well at the tournament, so I’d love to win it, that’s my next goal," revealed Jankovic, who has residency in Dubai and is a frequent visitor to the emirate.
Most veterans on tour aren’t interested in making changes to their game so late in their careers. They hire coaches to help them mentally, make small adjustments, but few can claim that they’re willing to make the necessary changes to achieve bigger goals.
But Jankovic says she’s not one of those people. She’s been putting in the hours to get better in many aspects of her game.
“I think I’ve improved a lot of shots in my game which has made a big difference,” says the Belgrade-native. “I think my serve has been much better and my return, and just constructing the points a lot better, playing a lot smarter… those little things I think that make a big difference at the end.
“You analyse in what situations you are doing good, what you are doing when you’re not doing good – you try to learn from that and that’s basically how you grow.”
She maintains that she still wants to win a grand slam but rather than draw inspiration from the achievements of her peers, like Li Na, who recently captured her second major in Australia at the age of 31, Jankovic prefers to motivate herself from within.
She made the finals at the US Open back in 2008 and has five grand slam semi-finals in her resume. She’s made only one quarter-final though in her last 15 majors.
“I’m not really a person who looks at other players and what they’ve done, what they’ve achieved. It’s more about what I can do myself or what I can achieve in my career,” says Jankovic. “You don’t have to prove anything to anyone. You’re playing the sport because you love the sport. You challenge yourself and prove to yourself that you can achieve certain things in your career.
“I think I’ve done quite a lot and my goal, my dream is to win one Grand Slam. But even if it doesn’t happen, it’s not the end of the world. I’ve been a finalist, I’ve been so many times a semi-finalist.
“But I would like to do that, so I would like to make that one more step and have that under my belt.”
JJ’ s Dubai Moments
efeats Sam Stosur 6-3, 5-7, 7-6. Jankovic came back from 0-3 down in the final set to beat Stosur and make the semis.
Defeats Martina Hingis 7-6, 6-2. Jankovic reached her second Dubai semifinal by taking out Hingis, ranked No6 at the time.
Defeats Serena Williams 6-0, 4-3 RET. A 19-year-old Jankovic reached her second career WTA final when Serena, ranked No2 at the time retired with an injury.
Lost to Lindsay Davenport 6-4, 3-6, 6-4. Jankovic pushed the then-world No1 Davenport to three sets before succumbing to the American.