Jankovic hoping to build on Oscar-like performance at U.S. Open
Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic, Serbia's one-two punch, are among the world's elite who have endured their share of tribulations lately, but all have a viable opportunity for redemption in Japan this week.
Much glee there was from the WTA Tour when its roadmap was highlighted during the U.S. Open. A longer offseason and fewer commitments were among the noteworthy contributions, although the elite are supposed to routinely play the biggest events next season.
Too bad it couldn't be implemented sooner.
U.S. Open champ Serena Williams (who is back at No. 1), her big sister Venus and the injured Maria Sharapova -- arguably the three biggest draws in the women's game -- are missing from Tokyo. Still, with six of the top 10 around and a field of 32, expect quality matches from the outset.
Jelena Jankovic might have lost the U.S. Open final, but the sprightly Serb was the hit of the tournament, at least among the women. Smiling during changeovers in the final -- when losing -- watching herself on the big screen at Arthur Ashe stadium, putting on an Oscar-worthy performance during the awards ceremony and keeping up with Williams for two sets endeared her to the New York faithful. (Her focus is for another day.)
"To reach my first Grand Slam final after five semifinals is another step in the right direction for me," Jankovic said on her Web site, adding that she didn't have enough time to fulfill her shopping commitments in New York. "Hopefully I can be in the same position again, and with some hard work and a bit of luck, I can be No. 1 again."
After a bye, Jankovic probably will meet Italian Flavia Pennetta in the second round. Pennetta reached the U.S. Open quarterfinals, and her ranking of 16th matches a career high.
Jankovic figures to face either enigmatic Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova, fresh off another Fed Cup title, or streaky Chinese Na Li in the quarters -- they battle in the first round. Li topped Kuznetsova at the Olympics and advanced to the fourth round at Flushing Meadows.
Second Quarter: Dementieva in pole position
Had she not blown a break lead in the first set in the semifinals against Jankovic, Olympic gold medalist Elena Dementieva might have been in a second U.S. Open final.
Dementieva has a comfortable opener in the second round, against either French teen Alize Cornet -- 9-10 on surfaces other than clay in 2008 -- or Canadian qualifier Aleksandra Wozniak, who hasn't done much since surprisingly landing her first title in California during the U.S. Open series.
At No. 7, Daniela Hantuchova is the next highest seed. The glamorous Slovak, however, is struggling to find top form following a right heel injury.
Upon losing to Serena Williams in the U.S. Open semis, Dinara Safina compared her own behavior to that of a spoiled brat. Assuming she has some gas left in the tank, the Russian won't need to be on her best behavior to progress to the semifinals.
Safina will encounter either Amelie Mauresmo, who has temporarily parted company with longtime coach Loic Courteau, or feisty Slovak Dominika Cibulkova. Safina crushed Cibulkova to claim the Tier I Rogers Cup in Montreal last month.
Although Anna Chakvetadze is Safina's scheduled quarterfinal opponent, Chakvetadze continues to slump, winning consecutive matches just once, in New Haven, since Wimbledon.
Buoyed by the crowd, veteran Ai Sugiyama could sneak into the quarters for the second straight year.
Fourth Quarter: Ivanovic's tribulations
Ana Ivanovic's summer didn't go as planned.
After winning the French Open and ascending to No. 1 in the world, the Serb exited early at Wimbledon, skipped the Olympics with a thumb injury and was on the receiving end of one of the biggest upsets in tennis history in New York.
Heading into Tokyo, Ivanovic, a loser to Martina Hingis in last year's final, says she's ready to go.
"Finally, for the last two weeks, I have no pain," Ivanovic, armed with a new, lighter Yonex racket, said.
It won't take long to see how fit Ivanovic is: Nadia Petrova looms in the second round.
A former member of the top five, Petrova is enjoying a renaissance, going 23-7 in her past 30 matches, and advanced to the semis in Bali, eliminated by eventual champion Patty Schnyder.
Power-hitting Frenchwoman Marion Bartoli, seemingly never injury free, and sixth-seeded Pole Agnieszka Radwanska figure in, too. While making progress, Radwanska is 3-9 versus top-10 opponents in 2008, and two of those wins came against the unpredictable Kuznetsova.
Jankovic has the mental edge on Dementieva, given their recent rendezvous in New York. Dementieva often had the advantage in rallies -- including a few long ones -- only to misfire at crunch time. A solid volleyer, she'll have to come to the net to finish off points to avoid a repeat performance.
Speaking of mental edge, Safina's record against Petrova is lopsided -- but not how you might think. Petrova leads 5-0, although they haven't met since the middle of 2007. Safina, as we know, is now a different player.
Prediction: Jankovic, Safina to advance
This is Safina's to lose.
Jankovic, as noted, can do little if a power hitter (such as the Williams sisters, Sharapova or Safina) is on her game. Safina leads their head-to-heads 3-2 and has triumphed in both their 2008 tilts -- on outdoor hard courts.
Jankovic has built her ranking by being consistent, yet she's won a solitary title in 2008, and on clay, which suits her game.
Ravi Ubha is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.