Older and wiser

Sitting in the lobby of a posh hotel in New Delhi, Jelena Jankovic meant every word she said. The Serb had returned from shopping and sightseeing. In the evening was the final of the inaugural CTL. But there was no tension or worry. Admittedly, little was at stake. But this relaxed approach seems to mean much more in the final stages of the Belgrade-born star’s career. By Priyansh.

Jelena Jankovic turns 30 in February next year. There’s an inescapable sense that she is past her best. Her participation in the Champions Tennis League only seemed to confirm the suspicion.

There’s an obvious reason why she won’t feature in the more illustrious International Premier Tennis League. Jankovic no longer belongs to the top tier of women’s tennis. You would think this rankles.

Surprisingly, it doesn’t. For perspective, one needs to listen to the current world number 15.

“For five consecutive years, I was in the top 10. Last year was a great year. I finished eighth as I returned to top 10. I was able to play at a high level day in, day out. But our season is so long. In the last few years I’ve had quite a lot of injuries. It set me back and didn’t allow me to train properly. It’s so tough physically and mentally. You feel so down. There were times when I would get injured, I’d return and there would be something else. My body was compensating for other injuries. The season’s so long that you don’t get time to prepare yourself. A lot of times we come back too soon. And that’s a mistake.”

But Jankovic found a way.

“I was in the top 10 even this year until the last two months. I had a really bad injury in my back. I was really worried. I thought may be my career was over. But I was so glad that I recovered. Now I feel so happy that I’m able to go on the court and enjoy tennis. Now it doesn’t matter winning or losing, I just want to go smiling and love the game. I make a living out of it. Most importantly, I have the passion for tennis. When you’re healthy, I don’t think you can ask for more. I had a great career. I’ve made a lot of money for my future. I’m very fortunate and blessed.”

S. SUBRAMANIUM

Sitting in the lobby of a posh hotel in New Delhi, Jankovic meant every word she said. The Serb had returned from shopping and sightseeing. In the evening was the final of the inaugural CTL. But there was no tension or worry. Admittedly, little was at stake. But this relaxed approach seems to mean much more in the final stages of the Belgrade-born star’s career.

Jankovic has other interests in life, interests that will gain greater importance as her tennis career recedes from the spotlight. Success on the court means a lot, but failure is not the end of the world. There’s some more perspective, a particularly elusive attribute to humans.

“I love fashion. I used to have a fashion line in Serbia. I love designing clothes with my mom. I would love to have a company one day, when I stop my tennis career. I’m attracted by that a lot. The travelling that I’ve done, you see different cultures. You use it to your advantage. I love acting as well.”

Various interests but she isn’t different from other women her age, maintains Jankovic. If only she could travel more, wishes the Serb.

“I love sightseeing. I’m like a little girl who wants to see everything. But I don’t have a lot of time during tournaments. If you go back home and somebody ask you ‘What did you see there?’ and you say nothing, it’s not nice.”

Jankovic’s home frequently features in her thoughts. There are many moments in which she ponders what she’ll do once she’s home. It’s fair to say, Jelena’s attachment to family runs deep.

JELENA JANKOVIC WITH YOUNG FANS IN NEW DELHI. "I love kids, in general. I have gone through so much in my career. So, it's nice to be able to share the knowledge and experience. I want to motivate and inspire them," Jankovic says.-SANDEEP SAXENA

These distractions, however, don’t mean that she’s looking to say goodbye to the sport in the near future. There are goals to be accomplished.

“I’m going home after CTL. I want to prepare well and be strong enough for next season. I’m not worried too much about the rankings. If I do well at Grand Slams and other tournaments, rankings will take care of themselves. I hope to stay injury free.

“I will be 30 next year. I have good genetics. If my body is fit, I will prevent some injuries. You take risks by playing when you have not recovered fully. It’s better to stop and not compete. I put my body under pressure in the past.”

If things don’t go Jankovic’s way though, a coaching job could easily become one of her priorities.

“I love kids, in general. I have gone through so much in my career. So, it’s nice to be able to share the knowledge and experience. I want to motivate and inspire them. I come from a country like Serbia where there wasn’t a tradition in tennis. But we have had three world number ones (Jankovic, Ana Ivanovic and Novak Djokovic). That’s a dream come true. That’s more than we could have imagined. I’m so proud of what we have achieved. They (kids) can look up to us and be inspired. We’re not a wealthy country and we didn’t have great facilities to train. But we were able to make it through hard work and sacrifice.”

Such hard work and sacrifice have gone into Jankovic’s work with UNICEF as well. In 2007, she was named a UNICEF national ambassador for Serbia for Children’s Fund. Her love for kids found a meaningful purpose then.

Yet, Jankovic prefers not to talk about the work she has done.

“When you help people, you help them from your heart. You feel good after helping them. I don’t always like my work to be public. When a lot of times you help, you don’t need promotion. Whatever it is I’m helping with, it makes me feel grateful and blessed.”

Contentment, another elusive human attribute, seems within Jankovic’s grasp now too.