Jankovic recalls her roots

GEORGE GROSS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:23 AM ET

NATO bombs were falling on Belgrade in 1999 in almost regular intervals.

In the periods between the bombings, young Serbian tennis players were practising.

Jelena Jankovic, the defending Rogers Cup champion, was not among them. In fact, she was thousands of miles away at a tennis camp in Florida, but her heart was aching.

Jelena, a 22-year-old rising star, who lost to compatriot Ana Ivanovic in a three-set thriller in the Los Angeles semi-final last weekend, told me yesterday: "I escaped the bombing raids, but my whole family was in Belgrade. I was worried sick, hoping no harm would come to them."

While Jelena did spend her early youth in Yugoslavia, she learned her tennis game in a Belgrade swimming pool. No, she didn't wear a bathing suit, as she told me laughingly.

"We had no tennis court facilities, but they made a swimming pool available to us," she said. "They drained the water and put a carpet on the floor of the pool. The reason they did it was the fact that the swimming pool didn't make any money. They figured the tennis court could generate more money. It was all right to practise there, except that it was too narrow and there was no space on the sides."

Getting back to more current events, Jelena thought there was a reason why she lost 7-5 to Ivanovic in the deciding third set.

"I don't want to make excuses, but I just didn't play well," she offered. "I wasn't moving well even in the early rounds. I had a cold and spent some time in bed, which weakened my body. In the semi-final against Ana my legs wouldn't carry me properly. I just couldn't play well.

"I hope I'll play better here in Toronto and then in the US Open, which is a very important tournament."

Is the Rogers Cup not important, I asked?

"Yes, Toronto and Montreal are important, but the US Open is a Grand Slam event and those are the ones you want to do well in," she explained.

The fellow beaming with delight when I mentioned that Serbian tennis had a great weekend with Novak Djorkovic eliminating Andy Rodick, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer to win the Rogers Cup in Montreal. As well as Ana Ivanovic winning the Los Angeles tourney, was the Serbian consul general Dragan Grkovic.

"These tennis triumphs are extremely important for Serbian sports," said the Serbian diplomat. "You see these young people are the new generation of Serbian sports. They are ambitious to represent the Serbian Republic internationally. Some of these kids were fearless and practised even when the bombs were falling on Belgrade.

"But their success is not only important for the people of Serbia, but also for the Serbian community in Toronto."

This time it will be the Serbian stars with the bombs as they fire their booming serves, forehands and backhands at their opponents on the courts of the Rexall Centre.

---

FIRST ROUND HIGHLIGHTS

- Patty Schnyder (10), Switzerland, def. Anabel Medina Garrigues, Spain, 6-3, 6-2.

- Shahar Peer (11), Israel, def. Michaella Krajicek, Netherlands, 7-5, 7-6 (7).

Tatiana Golovin (12), France, def. Julia Vakulenko, Ukraine, 6-2, 6-1.

- Katarina Srebotnik (14), Slovenia, def. Kateryna Bondarenko, Ukraine, 5-7, 6-2, 6-2.

DOUBLES

- Francesca Schiavone and Roberta Vinci (7), Italy, def. Valerie Tetreault, St-Jean-Sur-Richelieu, Que., and Aleksandra Wozniak, Blainville, Que., 6-4, 6-2.

MATCHES OF NOTE TODAY

- Stephanie Dubois vs. Ai Sugiyama, not before 1 p.m., stadium

- Anastasia Rodionova vs. Aleksandra Wozniak, not before 3:30 p.m., grandstand

Marie-Eve Pelletier vs. Ekaterina Shulaeva, not before 7:30 p.m.

-- Canadians in bold


Videos

Photos