April 12th 2005: Happy birthday Jelena!!!! She turns 22
February 8, 2005
Page Three Girl
by Todd Spiker
Here we are in February 2005... and Jelena is suddenly a "page three girl."
Now, don't go thinking that means something it doesn't. A topless Jelena isn't gracing the pages of any newsstand tabloids unless some elaborate
cut-and-paste jobs are going on behind closed doors. No, in this case, Jelena's new "standing" refers to needing to go all the way to the third page of the WTA website's rankings (see for yourself -- http://www.wtatour.com/rankings/sing...ric.asp?page=3
) to find a certain Dokic's name these days. She's currently residing on the #201-300 page, nestled right at #209, one spot behind Stanislava Hrozenska and one ahead of Tatiana Poutchek. Jelena hasn't visited this bad neighborhood in quite some time.
**THE AGASSI ROAD?**
Luckily for the Formerly Fair One, she still has a name stuck in many people's memory banks. That's enough to earn her a wild card entry and exemptions all over the tour. She can likely get into most any tournament she wants no matter her ranking. But it could be that Jelena hasn't stooped sufficiently enough to gain the leverage she needs to lift herself up from the depths her tennis hasn't seen since before her career-breaking upset of Martina Hingis nearly six years ago. One could probably piece together a pretty good argument that it might be a good experience to go though the rigors of qualifying, or get a dose of how the "other half" lives by traversing the game's true "backwoods" region -- the challenger circuit -- for her hoped-for resurrection to have any real "teeth." It could help sharpen a mind and game that can't help but have become dull after so many losses. If she takes a deep breath and follows a path such as that, ala Andre Agassi in '97 following a drop to #141, she'd surely learn a great deal about herself and how much she's willing to do to reclaim her lost place in the game she's been playing for most of her life. Jelena's never won an ITF event, having made one final (in Saga, Japan in '98, losing to Alicia Molik) in limited action. Participating in a few events now would at least provide a reasonably attainable goal to strive for. It's not likely to come to pass, but if these 1st/2nd Round exits continue unabated for another month or two it'll need to be considered, simply to provide her with match play. As Jelena said last year, "The trouble is you can't play many matches when you lose them."
Jelena's followed through on the plan to play lower-tiered events early in '05, choosing a Tier IV in India this week over a II in Paris with a field that includes three of the top four-ranked players in the world, but still went down in straight sets today in a 1st Round match against world #177 Mara Santangelo in Hyderabad. She's 1-2 so far in her late-starting 2005 season, opening each match with a tie-break in something of an immediate litmus test for how her day will eventually turn out. The only match she's won so far (over Anne Kremer) was after she opened with a tie-break victory... while she's failed to win a single set in any match where she's fallen a set behind. At least she's not being routed 1-and-2 these days (yet), and the more time on the court Jelena gets is probably for the better no matter how things turn out at this point in the season. But, right now, it's hard to gauge whether this slow start means anything for the rest of the year. Throw in the elbow injury that hindered her late last year, her offseason nose surgery and the leg injury that forced her retirement from the Alyona Bondarenko match last week and Jelena is a walking question mark, not the exclamation point she was up until the middle of '02, nor the lonely period at the end of every sentence she was at the conclusion of '04.
One CAN at least look at Daniela Hantuchova these days for encouragement. She never dropped as low in the rankings as Jelena is right now, but for the last two years she's suffered through a series of mostly down moments. Thus far in '05, she's starting to show positive progress toward inching back to her one-time Top 5 status. Her two tie-break loss to Svetlana Kuznetsova at least allowed her to employ the same mindset that Ivo Karlovic displayed last year after his good Wimbledon run was ended by Roger Federer. Karlovic said, "I'm happy with my result here. I just wish I played someone less good."
Jelena's no where near that sort of moment yet, but Hantuchova finally is. It's a long road back.
Jelena opened 2005 with only 281 points to defend from '04 (she's already lost the 149 from Tokyo's SF), so any decent results at all will allow her some form of movement up the WTA rankings. Of course, based on what we've seen so far, even that isn't a fait accompli. The good news, though, is that her ranking has pretty much bottomed-out.
Her largest point-drop remaining is the 55 from Miami (after that, it's 35 in Doha and 27 in Charleston). After April, she has just a vast collection of 1st/2nd Round exits on her 12-month ledger. In the second half of the season, she'll defend just 3 measly points. So, any win now is a building block for the possibility of making some real progress from the grasscourt season to the end of the year.
**THE WEATHERMAN SAYS...**
A week ago, the optimistic forecast on the Corner was one of mostly fair skies, but with a threat of clouds. After a retirement, two lost tie-breaks, three lost sets and the beginning of another losing streak (at two, making Jelena 1-11 in her last twelve WTA matches) it's already looking quite overcast around these parts.
It's no time for a vacation. It's time for hard work.
Last week, Jelena stated that she wanted to play until she was into her late twenties. At just 21, that's a lot of years still ahead of her. She has to become a "Page Two Girl" before she can ever be a "Page One Girl" again. And before she can be the Fair One again, she has to be the Patient One. Patience has never been one of Jelena's strongest qualities, either.
Hopefully, with age and lack of success, she'll learn how to play that role by the end of this season. The Patient One can become the Determined One before the end of 2005, and then she might finally be able to see that "fair" destination up ahead of her again. Right now, though, it seems a long trek to get there. Let's hope she's up to it.
All for now.