Bigger not always better
PARIS -- Jelena Jankovic came striding into the 2009 season with the No. 1 ranking and a new suit of armor -- in the form of rippling muscles -- courtesy of legendary trainer Pat Etcheberry.
Bigger, however, was not better.
Jankovic lost in the fourth round of the Australian Open -- to Marion Bartoli -- and then things got worse. Over a five-match span in February and March, she lost four of those matches to good, but not great, players with names like Kanepi, Pavlyuchenkova and Dulko.
"It was really disastrous," Jankovic said Thursday. "I was moving terrible. I was making so many errors. My game was completely off, as well as my confidence."
You may have noticed that tennis players, as a group, are not built like your typical athletes from, say, the NFL. Jankovic eventually came to this conclusion, so she stopped hitting the iron in the gym, and her weight gradually returned to her normal 130 pounds. She and Etcheberry, who has trained Justine Henin, Monica Seles and Martina Hingis, eventually parted ways.
"I lost some muscle," Jankovic. "I had maybe seven kilos more than I have now, which is a lot for me."
Actually, that's a lot for anyone, but try dragging seven kilos around on a tennis court for two or three hours a day.
Lionel Bonaventure/AFP/Getty Images
Jelena Jankovic's game became discernibly erratic after she bulked up in the offseason.
Seven kilos? Uh, what would that be in pounds?
"That's easy," said Martina Navratilova, a citizen of the world. "The conversion rate is 2.2. That's almost 16 pounds. She put on too much weight.
"There is obviously such a thing as too much muscle, especially for a tennis player."
Navratilova, who is second on the all-time list with 59 combined Grand Slam titles, knows something about muscles. She changed women's tennis with her weight-training methods and physicality.
Attacking a plate of coleslaw and pickles in the broadcast cafeteria, across from Court Philippe Chatrier, Navratilova mused about Jankovic, whose match against Magdalena Rybarikova of Slovakia she broadcast for Tennis Channel.
"She looked good," Navratilova said. "That's a lot of weight, but if you can keep your flexibility and agility at the same time, it can work. She definitely needed to bulk up a little bit, but maybe she overdid it."
Jankovic is small by the standards of today's power players; she survives on movement and angles and guile. In the end, that extra muscle cost her that valuable mobility.
"When you put that kind of weight on and you are not used to it, it's tough to move around," she said. "My game is getting back together. I'm trying to, little by little, play more aggressive and move to the net as much as I can and try to improve my serve."
Jankovic was rarely stressed in her 6-1, 6-2 victory over Rybarikova. She made only eight unforced errors and was her usual, solid, defensive self.
Though new No. 1 Dinara Safina is seen as the favorite here, there is a significant group that believes Jankovic is perfectly suited to the clay here and is destined to win the title. Last year, she was two points from beating fellow Serbian and eventual champion Ana Ivanovic in the semifinals, and, one imagines, she would have beaten Safina in the final, as Ivanovic did.
Can Jankovic win?
"Yes," Navratilova said, raising an eyebrow. "If everything falls into her place. She's under the radar."
Said Jankovic: "I'm enjoying the tennis again, which was not the case the last few months. It was really tough for me to even smile on the court with the way I played. You need to enjoy the battle. You need to enjoy the challenges.
"I want to get back to that spotlight."
Five things we learned on Day 5
1. We really can't believe we're writing this, but Andy Roddick seems destined for the quarterfinals (against the immortal Roger Federer) of the French Open -- which, of course, is played on sticky, annoying and cloying red clay -- and is typically a difficult venue for Americans who grow increasingly strident and impatient when their powerful shots are not immediately rewarded: Yes, Roddick dusted the Czech Republic's Ivo Minar 6-2, 6-2, 7-6 (2) in a startlingly swift 1 hour, 51 minutes.
"This is the best start I've had," Roddick said afterward. "I'm excited about the prospect of trying to make the second week."
Roddick is through to the third round, matching his best performance ever here -- his first appearance at Roland Garros, in 2001. There is a good chance he can advance to the fourth, since he'll play Marc Gicquel. Next up, to determine a potential berth in the quarters -- against Federer -- would be the winner of the Gael Monfils-Jurgen Melzer match.
After being assigned to the relatively remote non-show Court 2, Roddick said he was "kind of pumped."
"Last time I checked, I hadn't won a match here since 2005," he said. "So I don't know if I deserve any courtesies as far as what courts I'm playing on. It was an intimate setting, with people watching, everything growing on the walls, able to hear the highway and everything.
"That could be my favorite court here."
2. Jelena Dokic has incredibly bad luck: They say you can't pick your parents -- or your injuries, for that matter.
Dokic, whose father was recently charged with threatening the Australian Ambassador in Belgrade and faces eight years in prison, had Elena Dementieva all but bounced from the tournament when her back went out. Dokic, ranked No. 80, won the first set 6-2 and was in the second, at 3-4, when her back gave out as dusk was settling down Court No. 1. Sobbing, Dokic left the court and Dementieva, the No. 4 player in the world, was into the third round.
3. Jill Craybas was the Last American Woman Standing Not Named Williams: A 1:42 p.m., local time, the 34-year-old American lost to No. 10 seed Caroline Wozniacki 6-1, 6-4 on Court 2. That came 32 minutes after Alexa Glatch fell to Lourdes Dominguez Lino.
"She's always been in great shape," Wozniacki said of Craybas. "She's a great girl and I just think it's amazing that she can continue on such a high level for such a long time."
4. We still have much to overcome in this world: Frenchwoman Marion Bartoli, the No. 13 seed, lost a second-round match to Tathiana Garbin of Italy, 6-3, 7-5. Afterward, she complained abut Garbin's "attitude."
"Well, it's her clan," Bartoli said when asked to amplify. "When I made unforced errors, her team would shout. It's not sportslike.
Oh, well, that explains it.
Bartoli's politically incorrect explanation was followed by this observation from a reporter:
"You're Italian, too."
Said Bartoli "I'm from Corsica."
In fact, she was born in Le Puy en Velay, France, and her family is from the French island, the fourth-largest in the Mediterranean Sea. Still, Bartoli's grandmother was born in Italy and Corsica, technically, is 54 miles closer to Italy than France.
5. Tennis Tweet of the day: Courtesy of Jim Courier, the 1991 and 1992 French Open Champion, on Brad Gilbert's pronunciation:
Contest of the Week: "American-ize" ATP/WTA player names for me using Brad Gilbert's American Pronunciation Guide. This should be fun.
#6. No-Vick Jock-Itch (Novak Djokovic) There were multiple variations on this theme
#5. My-Rat Saffron (Marat Safin) Solid use of a spice as well as the original 1st name variation
#4. Bee-Jorn Pee-How (Bjorn Phau) Creative
#3. Make-Hail You-Sneeze (Mikhail Youzhny) So good
#2. Danny You-Dumb-Choke (Danai Udomchoke)
#1. A-Nasty-Sip Have-Lunch-And-Cover (Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova) You dominated
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Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
For about two hours Wednesday night, the streets of Paris were relatively empty. That's because Barcelona was playing Manchester United in the Champions League final. Barcelona wound up with a 2-0 victory over an oddly flat English side.
"All of us staying here watched it at the hotel lobby," Rafael Nadal wrote in his Times of London blog. The first thing I want to do is congratulate all the Barcelona team. What fantastic team.
"The closest thing to perfection!!!"
Close, but Nadal himself is perfection when it comes to Roland Garros. Thirty victories, no defeats in four-plus tournaments. Though his first two victims have been less-than-marquee players, next up is Lleyton Hewitt, a former No. 1 who knows what it's like to win a Grand Slam. Or two.
"Always," Nadal said, "it's a very tough match to play against Lleyton."
After struggling through the 2008 season with an injured left hip, Hewitt underwent surgery last August and finished the year outside of the top 25 for the first time since 1998, his first year on the ATP World Tour. Slowly, he has regained an equilibrium.
"My game can match up well against him sometimes," Hewitt said, "if I'm executing the way I want to."
Speaking his mind
Russian Marat Safin, 29, departed from his 11th and final French Open on Wednesday -- he lost a gnarly match to French wildcard Josselin Ouanna 10-8 in the fifth set -- but his goofy candor will be sorely, sorely missed by media members of the French Fourth Estate.
Selected highlights from Safin's final press conference at Roland Garros:
On the match:
"What's so complicated about this match? I don't get it. I played terrible. He played good. Even though that he just -- he almost lost this match. Christmas is today and not the 25th of December.
"I cannot say that he played incredibly well and played unbelievable tennis, and he's unbelievable, physically prepared. I don't know. It just it's OK. He's a good player. I give him credit. But it's like, OK."
"Well, I need to get pissed somehow and I need to get something to motivate yourself. The crowd is up for it. Why not? Let's play a little bit. That's what I needed. I was a little bit tentative about my game today because I was frustrated the way I played. I need something to piss me off, I think, just to motivate me, something extra. But it was too mellow, and it was a little bit too late."
French Open memories:
"Well, hopefully I can forget this match, for sure. My best memory was too far away in the history. So too many years back. Nothing really great to write about for last five years."
"Well, as you can see, I didn't draw the heart [like Gustavo Kuerten], and I didn't lay down and I didn't cry and I didn't -- all those things, I think, it's not me. Terrible way to finish with the French Open, but anyway.
"It's OK. It's not so sad. I mean, it's like -- it's OK. Nothing to be sad about. Nothing to be, you know -- doesn't get me emotional. But I really do respect all the people who have been involved in my tennis career and basically all the people who are coming and supporting me here, so I think it's nice, but unfortunately, it's not the right way to finish up."
He is 6-foot-4, weighs 177 pounds and has impossibly long arms.
When he is on, Gael Monfils can reach almost any ball. Bobby Reynolds called him the fastest man on the ATP World Tour, at least his first two steps, after a first-round loss to the 22-year-old Frenchman.
"His stretch, slide and reach are impressive," said ESPN analyst Darren Cahill. "Maybe not the fastest -- I think Rafa is the fastest straight ahead -- but as far as getting his racket on the ball? He's just phenomenal.
"Remember the Fantastic Four? He's Mr. Stretch, the Rubber Man."
Indeed, Monfils resembles Mr. Fantastic (Reed Richards), the endlessly pliable character from the fictional superhero group.
On Thursday, Monfils advanced to the third round at Roland Garros with a solid 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 win over Romanian qualifier Victor Crivoi. Monfils is suffering from a sore knee, but will have a day off before meeting Austria's Jurgen Melzer for a berth in the fourth round.
Monfils joins no fewer than four fellow Frenchmen -- in the bottom half of the draw -- in the third round.
Aravanne Rezai vs. Michelle Larcher de Brito: There's a reason this match between two relative unknowns is first on center court Friday. Larcher de Brito, a 16-year-old Bollettieri protege who's still playing a limited WTA schedule due to her age, is one of the most dynamic teenagers to emerge on the scene in some time. She's still better known for her high-decibel shrieks and grunts than her shotmaking, but that may change if she can win her sixth straight (counting qualifying rounds) match here. Rezai, 22, just won her first career WTA title on clay in Strasbourg and is moving closer to detente with the French federation after years of open strife. She mauled Larcher de Brito in Miami qualifying a few weeks ago in their only previous meeting, but the younger player will feel free to swing away here while the 57th-ranked Rezai has the burden of being one of only two French women remaining in the draw.
ESPN.com prediction: Rezai in three.
--Bonnie D. Ford