Saturday, April 9, 2022

I Drove All Night--Jankovic in Charleston

photo by Daniel Ward
2007 Charleston champion Jelena Jankovic was determined to make it to the city to help fans and players celebrate the tournament's (delayed) 50th anniversary. Her flight was delayed, then she was flown to New York City, where she discovered that all of the flights to Charleston has been canceled. She then drove fourteen hours and arrived in Charleston early Saturday morning. She was determined to make it for the celebration, and she said that she was surrounded by people with so much positive energy, that she was able to forget about her exhaustion.

I sat down with JJ this afternoon to talk about her new life as a mom, and about her memories of Charleston, where she was practically a rock star for years.

Jankovic said that she had many great memories of the stadium, and--of course--her favorite memory is of winning the title in 2007. That was the year that there were serious storms and very high winds on finals day. Jankovic handled the wind really well, while her opponent, Dinara Safina, cursed the wind. "“She was cursing, and I was probably cursing as well, but inside myself," Jankovic recalled.

I asked her if there were any other matches that stood out for her, but she said that--though she remembered being in several exciting matches, she couldn't recall them specifically. She asked me if I could recall one, but unfortunately, the only one I could think of was a quarterfinal that she lost in 2010 to Daniela Hantuchova. I remember it because it was so well played.

We talked about her great comfort level in Charleston, where she always tended to be outrageously funny, and to get up to various antics, especially in the company of her friend, 2014 champion Andrea Petkovic.

photo by Daniel Ward
“I’m an open and honest person; I always show my emotions....

“Charleston, every year I came back to Charleston, they always made us feel like, you know, coming back to family. I think that’s what made me open up even maybe more….because I never take life very seriously, I’m just that type of person, so I think that’s why you could maybe get some more. Because maybe in other places, it was more serious—they didn’t give me that freedom to open and say some of the things maybe I would say here.”

  "I haven't slept in like one year and three days."

Jankovic's little girl, Una, had her first birthday just a few days ago, and the former champion describes herself as a full-time mom. JJ said that she doesn't have any nannies, and that she prepares all of her daughter's food, though she does have a cook for herself. She said that--because of teething issues--her baby wakes up "all the time." "I haven't slept in like one year and three days."

I asked if perhaps we can look forward to Una's picking up a racquet some day. Jankovic said: “I see her handle the balls, unbelievable, in her tiny little hand, she found a way to hold two balls, and I don’t know how she even did that....“She has very good motor skills, I see that from early, maybe three or four months.”

Jankovic stressed that she won’t put any pressure on her daughter,  but she hopes that Una plays sports "so she can learn about being disciplined, responsible, respectful." She said that she also wants her to be active rather than be preoccupied with electronic devices all the time.

“For me, the most important thing is that I want her to be a good person, to be respectful, and to have a good heart.”

JJ said that she, herself, is not currently involved in any fitness activities, but will eventually resume some type of fitness schedule. Right now, she simply has no time for anything other than taking care of her baby.

I asked her if, like some other players, she may be interested in writing a book. 

“Actually, I would have a lot to say; I think it would be a fun book to read.” 

Jankovic said that a lot of interesting things have happened, and that she had a lot to share, coming from a small country with no tradition in tennis. For a long time, people didn’t take her professional tennis goals seriously. 

“I had a vision, I had motivation, I was dedicated….'You’re too ambitious, too confident…it’s not gonna happen,'" people told her, and then she became the number 1 player in the world. “I opened the doors for other players.”

photo by Daniel Ward

Finally, I asked Jelena about her shoes. After all, this was the woman who--when she won Stuttgart--chose the red Porsche because she had a matching pair of heels at home. She was wearing Prada today, a pair she'd had for many years that she says have held up well because she's hardly ever worn them. She wore them today, she said, because the heels are low.

clockwise, from left: JJ and Petko, playing doubles in 2014, at a press conference in 2013, wearing her "superhero" cape for the press in 2014 (all photos by Daniel Ward)


colt13 said...

Yay! I saw pics online of Jankovic and Pierce, among others, and hoped you would get to interview one.

Her talking about not sleeping for a year is about as on brand as ever.

Diane said...

It was great to see her and talk with her. She remains a treasure.