Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic have both taken advantage of the recent shake-ups in women’s tennis. The sudden retirement of Justine Henin, Maria Sharapova’s shoulder surgery and the on-again, off-again injuries to the Williams sisters have left a gap at the top of women’s tennis, one the Serbians helped fill when both briefly attained the No. 1 ranking last year.
But it wasn’t until this past weekend when the two Top 10 players caught their country up with the rest of the world, defeating Spain in qualifying play to put Serbia in the Fed Cup World Group for the first time ever.
“It’s been our dream to get in the World Group,” said Ivanovic after leading Serbia over Spain, last year’s surprise Fed Cup runner-up, but now a country tumbling out of the World Group and struggling to establish top players on the WTA Tour Rankings. “After a couple of years of hard work and going through lower groups, it finally happened. We are all very excited about it and I think we have a team that can win the Fed Cup one day.”
Indeed, the high-powered Serb team would be a favorite in virtually any situation, and would be favorites to humble even last weekend’s World Group semifinalists, the underpowered U.S. and Czech Republic teams, and the scrappy Italians and the injury-ravaged Russian squad. Last weekend the U.S., without the Williams sisters, and Italy advanced to the Fed Cup final.
The Williams sisters have shown little interest in playing for the U.S., leaving Russia as the only country in the coming years that would be able to field two high-caliber singles players to challenge the Serbs.
“We are at the top of our games now,” Ivanovic said of herself and Jankovic. “Obviously there are so many good teams who if they are at their (best) have dangerous opponents, but Jelena and I have won against most of these players. Obviously Fed Cup is different but I still think we have to go in with this confidence to any match we play.”
Jankovic battled through two singles wins against Spain, despite suffering through a cold and breathing problems.
“She was unbelievable,” said Serb captain Dejan Vranes. “She is such a big fighter. She couldn’t breathe but she won two matches. And for Ana it was her first match on clay for almost one year and that was a little bit of pressure for her. But I would like to congratulate all my players because they fight like I expected and they fulfilled our goal. We finally reached the World Group.”
Also joining the World group for 2010 were France (behind Alize Cornet, Amelie Mauresmo and Nathalie Dechy), Germany (Charleston winner Sabine Lisicki) and the Ukraine (the Bondarenko sisters), while falling out along with Spain were the Slovak Republic, China and Argentina.
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