Commentary

Jankovic jettisoned at Aussie Open

Jelena Jankovic was overmatched Sunday in Australia by Marion Bartoli. The Serb failed to achieve her first Grand Slam title and might lose her No. 1 ranking, to boot.

Originally Published: January 25, 2009
By Sandra Harwitt | Special to ESPN.com

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Jelena Jankovic quite likely played away her world No. 1 ranking Sunday.

Competing in her first tournament of the year, Jankovic was battered in the fourth round of the Australian Open by Frenchwoman Marion Bartoli in a 6-1, 6-4 upset that put the Serb in danger of surrendering her top ranking. To bump Jankovic from her throne, Dinara Safina needs to reach at least the semifinals, while Serena Williams and Elena Dementieva need to reach the final.

[+] EnlargeJelena Jankovic
Mark Metcalfe/Getty ImagesJelena Jankovic's loss was the earliest exit by a No. 1 seed at the Australian Open since Steffi Graf in 1997.
While Jankovic's No. 1 ranking is legitimate -- she established it by playing frequently and going deep into tournaments consistently -- it's a constant source of tongue-wagging because she has never won one of the four crown jewels of the sport.

"I want to be No. 1," said Jankovic, whose best Grand Slam showing was reaching the U.S. Open final in September. "I don't want to be No. 2 so that I don't have any pressure. I don't think that's right. I just want to lift my game up. I want to play better, that's all."

Bartoli was breathtaking in her ability to hammer Jankovic, leaving even Jankovic unable to conceal her admiration.

"A bad day for me," Jankovic said, grimacing. "You know, good day for her. And all the credit [to her]. She was the better one today."

The crafty Bartoli, the 2007 Wimbledon finalist, was masterful in neutralizing Jankovic. When Bartoli is in shape and on her game, there's no denying that her flat, overpowering two-handed groundstrokes off of both flanks, a la Monica Seles, can flatline opponents. Bartoli pounced on every short ball that took her to the net, leaving Jankovic feeling stranded.

"I was a little bit lost in the match," Jankovic admitted. "That's maybe a lack of playing but it will come. It's just the first tournament of the year. There is many more to play. I just have to go forward and be strong and just keep going."

The first set went by in the blink of an eye for Jankovic, who fell behind 5-0 before holding serve in the sixth game in a too-little, too-late scenario. Jankovic had chances to become a factor in the opening set but could do nothing with the three break points Bartoli presented.

There was a palpable nervousness whenever Jankovic was forced to hit a second serve. Bartoli smelled blood, moving far inside the baseline to receive -- a strategy that unnerved Jankovic. In all, Jankovic would win only seven of 24 points on her second serve in the one-hour, 22-minute match.

Though the score indicates that Jankovic made a better showing in the second set by staying with Bartoli to 4-4 and trading service breaks twice, it was a laboring effort. Jankovic felt a lack of control, and at one point she resorted to crossing herself in hopes of a little help from above.

Jankovic's fate was sealed in the painful, 18-point ninth game. The Serb escaped three break points but could not overcome the fourth. Bartoli executed a stunning forehand crosscourt return winner -- her 32nd of the match -- to set up the final break point she needed. Constantly harassed, Jankovic had finally faced too much; she winced as her backhand hit the net to lose serve for the final time.

Not immune to a few nerves of her own, Bartoli double-faulted on her first match point in the 10th game. But she recovered quickly to upset the No. 1 with a backhand approach winner.

Even in defeat and licking her wounds, Jankovic is resolute in her quest for success the rest of the year.

"I'll try to forget [the match] as soon as possible, of course," Jankovic said. "It's not so easy when you lose, especially like this. But it's part of the game."

As for Bartoli, who now leads Jankovic 4-3 in career meetings, she moves on to a second career Grand Slam quarterfinal berth, against No. 7 Vera Zvonareva.

"I was not overwhelmed by the situation, and I just went for my shots and everything went in today," Bartoli said. "It was just a great match."

Watching with a careful eye, new French Fed Cup captain Nicolas Escude believes Bartoli is capable of going the distance if she can continue to play at the level she displayed against Jankovic.

"Marion was playing unbelievable this morning," Escude said. "Marion hits the ball very hard and Jankovic was completely lost. I hope Marion is going to win this tournament. Why not?"

Sandra Harwitt is a freelance tennis writer for ESPN.com.

Sandra Harwitt is a freelance tennis writer for ESPN.com.