ROME, Italy — She was within striking distance at her first nine events of the year but never came away the winner; all of that changed on Sunday, as Jelena Jankovic finally captured her first Sony Ericsson WTA Tour title of the year — and sixth of her career — at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia.
Jankovic, the No.4 seed at the $1.34-million, Tier I stop, faced qualifier and giant killer Alize Cornet in Sunday’s title match in front of a packed crowd at the Foro Italico. She was hoping to avoid becoming Cornet’s third Top 10 scalp of the week and played solidly under that pressure, using her powerful ground game and strong defensive skills to outdo the youngster in an hour and 23 minutes, 62 62. While the two were separated by six winners, Cornet hit almost twice as many errors as Jankovic (30-16), the stat which sealed her fate — literally, as she missed a backhand on match point.
“Just to be in the final was the most exciting experience of my life,” the French teenager said. “I knew Jelena could be the most difficult player to play because she moves very well and it’s really hard to make winners. Now I’m disappointed but it was a great week for me, for sure.”
“She’s a young player with great potential, and I just didn’t know how she was going to play,” Jankovic said. “And of course, she wasn’t the favorite. I was the favorite and had the pressure on me. I was defending my title and I’m glad I could cope with the pressure and win it for the second time.”
Jankovic had a predominantly smooth path to the final, winning her opening rounds in straight sets before toughing out a three set victory against Venus Williams in the quarterfinals. Another potential tough test was avoided as her semifinal opponent, No.2 seed Maria Sharapova, withdrew from the event with a left calf strain. Sharapova is 4-1 lifetime against Jankovic.
Meanwhile, Cornet was sending shockwaves on the top half of the draw, with upsets over No.3 seed Svetlana Kuznetsova and No.6 seed Anna Chakvetadze — her first Top 10 wins — en route to her first Tier I final. She ousted the No.5-ranked Kuznetsova in straight sets, but had to come back from a 63 30 hole to beat the No.8-ranked Chakvetadze, eventually prevailing, 36 64 63.
“I was really disappointed not to get into the main draw because I was the first one out,” said Cornet, who was the top seed in the qualifying. “If I was told I’d reach the final of the main draw I wouldn’t have believed it. But now, after I just played it match by match and day by day, and made it to the finals, I think it’s a beautiful story. Now I’m heading to Paris with a big goal.”
“It’s tough when you’re in the final and you have the opportunity to win a big tournament and you don’t,” Jankovic said. “So many emotions go through your mind. I told her that she played great throughout the week — that she beat so many great players and has a great future in front of her. She has to keep going. Nobody likes to lose, but her time will come.”
This was the sixth singles title for Jankovic on the Tour, after titles at Budapest in 2004 and Auckland, Charleston, Rome and Birmingham last season. Next she will go for Grand Slam glory at Roland Garros and with one of her nemeses having retired from the game this week, the path seems smoother.
“Justine was my worst opponent last year. She was the only one I could not beat and she stopped me from winning many tournaments on clay, and some on hard as well. Now she’s not playing anymore, of course I have a big chance. I think I have a big opportunity to do very well in the French Open.”
Cornet has had an absolute breakthrough year so far, working her way from outside the Top 50 to inside the Top 30 as of the new rankings, mostly as a result of her impressive results on clay. Having never made it past the quarterfinals of any event on the Tour, she reached the final of Acapulco in February, back-to-back semifinals at Amelia Island and Charleston last month, and now another final — her first at a Tier I — here in Italy. She is now lined up for a seed at her home Grand Slam, Roland Garros.
Chinese Taipei’s Chan Yung-Jan and Chuang Chia-Jung won the doubles trophy earlier in the day, stopping Iveta Benesova and Janette Husarova, 76(5) 63. It is Chan and Chuang’s second Tour doubles title of the year, after their triumph at Pattaya City in February, and their sixth overall as a team.
— Sony Ericsson WTA Tour
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