Jelena Jankovic came back to avoid a big upset in the first round of the US Open yesterday, edging 18-year-old Simona Halep of Romania 6-4, 4-6, 7-5 Halep served for the match while leading 5-4 in the third set, and she came within two points of victory. But Jankovic broke her, and took the final three games to ensure she prevailed.
The Serbian had looked as if she would go through comfortably after taking the first set, but then she wobbled as Halep went two breaks up in the second set. Although the Serbian was able to get one break back, she was unable to prevent her teenage opponent taking the match to a final set on the Arthur Ashe court. The third set proved close, but it looked as if Halep was about to land the first upset of the championships when she had the chance to serve out for the match, and Jankovic admitted that it took her a little while to realise the severity of her plight.
The Serbian revealed afterwards she had not initially realised the severity of the situation. "I was in some sort of zone, I thought it was 4-3 and then thought, 'Oh my God'," she said on Sky Sports. "It was unbelievable, I'm so happy to get through." She added: "First round matches are never easy and today was really hard. It wasn't my best game, so I had to work hard to get through. "It's really hot out there, I don't know how many degrees but it's really hot, especially on one side (of the court) with the sun in my face.
"It was tough, I was lucky to get through and to have another chance." Jankovic was the 2008 runner-up at Flushing Meadows and has a chance to overtake Serena Williams at No 1 in the rankings by winning the tournament this year, with the American absent due to a foot injury. The 96th-ranked Halep, meanwhile, never has won a match at any major tournament. She lost in the first round at the French Open in her Grand Slam debut.
Jankovic, a former world No 1, next plays Mirjana Lucic, the Croatian qualifier, who eliminated Alicia Molik of Australia. Elsewhere in yesterday's second day of action at Flushing Meadows, Svetlana Kuznetsova, the former US Open champion, booked her passage into the last 64 with a 6-2, 4-6, 6-1 victory over Kimiko Date Krumm. But the 25-year-old Russian, who won the tournament in 2004 and reached the final in 2007, was far from convincing during the one hour, 56 minute match.
Her superior groundstrokes gave her the first set but wayward shot selection combined with some intelligent tactical play from Japan's Date Krumm saw the match go to a final set. Both players, sweating heavily in the New York midday sun, struggled to find any rhythm on serve in the decider, but Kuznetsova was eventually rewarded for the more attacking approach. There were glimmers that the No 11 seed was returning to her best form in the final games of the match. The former world No 2, who ended a 10-month wait for a tournament win earlier this month in San Diego, increasingly mixed some heavy hitting from the back of the court with some fine touches at the net.
For the opening two sets, though, Date Krumm, who turns 40 next month, boasted the better shot selection, but she tired as the contest approached the two-hour mark. But it was Kuznetsova who prevailed in the end. * Agencies