By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) – After a season plagued with injuries and a health scare Jelena Jankovic, perhaps more than anyone, needed the tonic of a few days soaking up the Mallorcan sunshine last week.
Despite the shimmering allure of the Mediterranean from her hotel balcony, it was no holiday for the Serbian former world number one who is closing in on 1,000 WTA Tour matches since turning professional 16 years ago.
At 31, she remains as motivated as ever and has taken heart from some of her fellow ‘veterans’ who joined the grand slam singles winners’ club past their 30th birthday.
That is despite going nearly three months this season without winning a match as she struggled with shoulder and back injuries so painful that she even found it difficult to wash her hair.
While that was frustrating, when a routine MRI scan in April showed a cyst on her thyroid gland she was forced to deal with the possibility she may have cancer.
“It was a scary thought”, Jankovic said.
“They did a biopsy and they removed the cyst with a needle and luckily, it was benign.”
With that behind her and her injuries healing, she is hoping the second half of the year is kinder.
Certainly the 2008 U.S. Open runner-up looked more like her old self on the grasscourts of Santa Ponsa as she won three matches in a row for the first time this year.
The world number 24 fell in the semi-finals to Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia, again suffering some injury niggles, but at least things appear to be heading in the right direction.
“I’m still hungry, I’m a fighter by nature,” Jankovic told Reuters. “It’s been difficult this year, I’ve had a lot of injuries. Then you try and compensate too much and you get another one and then another one.
“I’ve almost had to start from zero again. The muscle I ruptured you need to breathe, to run, I couldn’t even wash my hair. Now I just want to get stronger.”
While logic suggests Jankovic’s chances of claiming a maiden grand slam are receding, she only has to look at the likes of Flavia Pennetta, Angelique Kerber and Marion Bartoli, all of whom became first-time winners in the last three years.
“I still think I’m in with a shout,” she said.
“As you have seen in the last couple of years we have had so many new winners and especially some that are in their thirties, veterans of the Tour,” she said.
“I think you can have a good two weeks and you can win one if you are still determined enough and I am.”
If she could have one wish, though, it would be for some Iberian sunshine to bless Wimbledon, where her best showing is five last-16 appearances.
“You could not ask for a better location for a tournament than Mallorca,” she said.
“It was a beautiful ambience and we could play in the warm sunshine at 8pm. Unfortunately the grasscourt season takes place in rainy and cloudy places.”
(Editing by Pritha Sarkar)