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Jankovic relishes chance to compete for top ranking

by Andrew Mckirdy

Jelena Jankovic is determined to draw strength from her U.S. Open final defeat and regain the top spot in the world rankings at this week’s Toray Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo.

Jankovic, who claimed the No. 1 position during the Beijing Olympics only to lose it to Ana Ivanovic a week later, put the disappointment behind her to reach her first Grand Slam final at Flushing Meadows at the start of this month.

Serena Williams stopped the 23-year-old in her tracks with a straight-sets win, propelling herself back to the top of the rankings in the process, but Jankovic says she is focused on snatching the crown back this week at Ariake Coliseum.

A top-two finish would be enough for the Serbian to achieve her goal, but she knows she faces a difficult task in a tournament featuring six of the world’s top 10 players.

“Nothing comes easy, so you have to really work hard for it,” she said. “Nothing falls from the sky. Whoever works the hardest and whoever wants it more will win.

“Of course I want to go back to the top, and that is why I am here.

“I really want to get back to the No. 1 spot and I will do my best to achieve that.”

Jankovic became only the 18th woman ever to reach the top ranking in August, but she insists the brevity of her stay there did not take the shine off her achievement.

“Any time you achieve No. 1, it doesn’t matter if it is for a week or for many years,” she said. “It will always stay there on your record. It is every player’s dream to be No. 1 and I am just the 18th player to achieve that, so there aren’t many in the history of women’s tennis.

“It is something everyone dreams of but not everyone gets to do. I am really proud that I joined that group of legends.”

Jankovic is still seeking her first Grand Slam victory after losing to Williams in New York. But rather than dwell on what might have been, the Serbian is taking positives from the experience.

“Of course it is disappointing for me that I lost in the final, but at the same time when you look back I had a great two weeks, and especially because I have been struggling with a lot of injuries,” she said.

“It was a great match against Serena and I had my chances, but I am looking forward to developing my game and doing my best. My time will come.

“Now I want to take that extra step and win a slam. I got to a final and that will help me in the future. Now I know what to expect.”

Britain’s Andy Murray could not stop raving about the raucous crowd at Flushing Meadows as he also made it through to his first Grand Slam final at the U.S. Open, and Arthur Ashe Stadium now has another confirmed fan in Jankovic.

“I really love the U.S. Open,” she said. “That is the one I feel most comfortable at.”

“My personality suits that tournament most because the atmosphere is electric and the crowd get really involved.

“But each Grand Slam is special in its own individual way. I would love to win them all, and that is a dream of mine, but whichever one you win is special.”

For the time being, however, Jankovic’s thoughts are firmly on the task at hand in Tokyo.

The world No. 2 says Japan’s Tier 1 event cannot compare with the rigors of a Grand Slam, but is wary of the dangers posed by familiar rivals such as Ivanovic, Elena Demetieva and Dinara Safina.

“Playing at Grand Slams you have to compete for two weeks and you have to win seven matches, and physically and mentally it wears you out,” she said. “The draw is bigger and everyone wants to be in their best shape.

“Here the draw is smaller, but of course you might be playing the same players. That’s the way it goes.”

And with little to choose from among the world’s top players, Jankovic is aware that success at Ariake would allow her no room for complacency.

“Now there is a group of girls who are doing well and are in form,” she said. “There will be a battle until the end of the year to see who will finish as the No. 1 player in the world.”