Print and Go Back ESPNTennis [Print without images]

Thursday, January 21, 2010
Updated: January 22, 11:02 AM ET
Jankovic's on-court plight persists

MELBOURNE, Australia -- The Serbs, at least the women, show no signs of emerging from their worrying slumps.

A day after Ana Ivanovic fell in a three-set battle to Gisela Dulko, serve and ball toss still awry, Jelena Jankovic tamely exited to the streaking Alona Bondarenko 6-2, 6-3 as the mercury rose in Melbourne. To say Jankovic was the overwhelming favorite, despite Bondarenko's recent surge, would be an understatement. She led the 31st seed 9-0 in their head-to-heads, dropping a single set -- in their first meeting.

"It's no big deal," claimed Jankovic, like Ivanovic a former world No. 1. "It's only my second tournament of the year. I'm a player who likes to play a lot of matches. The more I play, the better I get. I feel like my game is improving, and I feel like I really can raise my level and be up there."

The strange weather continued, as temperatures soared to more than 95 degrees Friday. Thankfully, the humidity was low. A 20-degree dip in temperature is forecast for Saturday.

Like countryman Novak Djokovic this year and last, Jankovic endured an uncertain buildup to the Australian Open. In 2009, Djokovic changed rackets and subsequently struggled for a majority of the year. Jankovic tinkered with her serve in the offseason, working with famed coach Nick Bollettieri and former touring pro Jimmy Arias. The knee bend is more pronounced, coupled with more arching of the back. As a colleague pointed out, it resembles the service motion of Thomas Enqvist, a Swede who crushed the ball and reached the Australian Open final 11 years ago.

Jankovic made the switch to increase pace and precision, wanting to get cheap points rather than scamper for hours. No one should expect miracles overnight, and Jankovic indeed had a tough time on serve against Bondarenko, who extended her winning streak to eight matches after a title in Hobart last week.

Bondarenko manufactured 13 break points in nine of Jankovic's service games, converting six times, even as Jankovic landed a respectable 62 percent of first serves.

"I didn't serve well," Jankovic said.

And from the back of the court, Bondarenko bullied Jankovic, including their toe-to-toe backhand battles, one of the latter's strengths. Jankovic was so desperate in one rally late in the second set that she returned a moon ball, followed immediately by a drop shot that sunk into the net.

Her Spanish coach, Ricardo Sanchez, was in no mood to analyze Jankovic's performance. Sanchez boldly proclaimed at the start of last season that Jankovic would win two majors -- in 2009 alone.

No majors yet, and it won't get any easier now that the Belgians are back.