With a new coach, and a first qualifying experience since 2004, Jelena Jankovic booked herself a spot in the Qatar Total main draw with a battling 6-1, 6-7 (6), 6-4 win over Tsvetana Pironkova on Monday in Doha.
The former world No1 last played in the qualifying round of a tournament 13 years ago and considering how unfamiliar the situation is for her, she actually did not sign up for Doha and had to receive a wildcard just to play in the preliminaries.
Jankovic, 31, won three qualifying matches to earn a place in the main draw against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova today.
The Serb is down to No50 in the world after suffering a shoulder injury and a health scare last season but has hired a new coach, former world No8 Guillermo Canas of Argentina, and is looking to climb back up the rankings.
“It feels great to qualify. First of all I’m really not used to playing qualifying, now I know how hard it is and what it takes to play,” Jankovic told Sport360 on Monday night.
“You have to win three matches, which is not easy, and all these players they play so well and they fight. I’m glad I was even able to play in the qualifying because I wasn’t in the draw, on the list, so I got a wildcard into the qualifying. I’m thankful even for that, to have that opportunity and luckily I was able to pass those three rounds and here I am in the main draw again.
“I didn’t sign in, I didn’t even know how it works. It’s been since 2004 (since I played qualies) and now it’s 2017, so it’s been many years since I’ve been in this situation. I had a tough last year with a lot of injuries and I need to come back, I need to get my ranking up.”
Canas has previously coached Russia’s Teymuraz Gabashvili and was part of Kei Nishikori’s team. The 39-year-old is new to the women’s game and Jankovic admits his first on-court coaching visits – that are only allowed on the WTA not the ATP – were novel experiences for Canas.
“It’s a new partnership, we just started this week, we’ve just been working for a couple of days before this tournament. It’s a brand new relationship, just new ideas, someone new just to kind of change it up. We’ll see how it goes, so far so good,” said Jankovic.
“I was looking for a coach, he was available, and through my agent, we just thought let’s give it a try, let’s see.
“He’s actually not familiar with that rule (on-court coaching) because in men’s tennis they don’t have that so when I told him we have on court coaching he’s like ‘how does that work, how many times can I get on court?’
“He’s getting used to that rule, it’s kind of cool. But I think it takes time to get used to women’s tennis and our rules and the way we kind of work.”
Jankovic says she has put all her physical problems behind her and is now keen on getting her confidence back. She made the third round at the Australian Open last month but is winless in the three other tournaments she has contested so far in 2017.
She could have sealed her match against Pironkova in straight sets but after climbing from a break down in the second, she squandered two match points to drop the tiebreak. Jankovic recovered in the decider though.
“I’m feeling good but I need to get my game up there and of course my confidence and just being comfortable in the matches, being in those situations all over again, match in, match out, day in, day out, compete and fight and find my way,” said the former US Open runner-up.
“I should’ve been in the locker room an hour earlier but that’s tennis and yes of course I was disappointed when I lost that second set (against Pironkova), I had two match points, it was tough to digest that but I had to forget about what happened and I just tried hang in there. One point at a time, fight hard, and I got myself through that one. It was a tough match…
“The conditions as well here are not so easy, it’s windy, it’s cold, the balls are heavy, especially in the night time. If you play during the day it’s a bit different but at night you’ve got to work.”