BY RICHARD OSBORN
Back in the ‘90s she was training on a converted indoor swimming pool in her homeland, part of a generation of Serbian athletes who would overcome war and uncertainty to become one of the world's true tennis powers, three of whom would rise to No. 1. Jelena Jankovic has since become one of the tour's most colorful figures, an elite performer who's claimed 15 career titles and reached the semis or better at the majors on no less than six occasions. BNPParibasOpen.com sat down with the popular veteran for a candid conversation.
Q: You're a record-holder in Indian Wells now with 16 career appearances, the most ever, including winning the 2010 title. How does that feel?
Jelena Jankovic: My God, it makes me feel so old! But I love playing this tournament. It's probably my favorite Premier event. It’s just so relaxing, even though it’s a big tournament, big event. It just feels so cozy. The people are so nice and friendly. I love the environment, I love the courts, I love the hot weather. I just love playing in these conditions.
Watch: What Players Love About Indian Wells
Q: This is a home tournament of sorts for you. You have a home only a few hours’ drive from here, in Rancho Santa Fe. Are you a California girl at heart?
JJ: When I'm traveling all over the place, basically I don't live anywhere, if you really think about it. I was just there celebrating my birthday [she turned 32 on Feb. 28]. Coco Vandeweghe is my neighbor, just a few minutes away from where I live. It's nice. I wish with my job that I could have a little more off time and kind of spend time with my friends and family, but while I'm playing professionally, it's not the case.
Q: How do you feel about the retirement of your countrywoman Ana Ivanovic? Were you surprised?
JJ: It's a personal decision. Everyone does what makes them happy. That's what made her happy, to not play anymore, to not compete, to have a family and be with her husband, to start a new chapter in her life. It’s a lot of pressure. It's a different lifestyle. It’s not easy to do for so many years. Some of us started at a really young age. I started playing professionally when I was 15, 16 years old. It's a long career, a lot of time spent in hotels, on the road, competing, playing under pressure. She had a great career, great results, lots of achievements, so why not?
Q: You have one of the bigger personalities on the WTA Tour, if I may say so...
JJ: Don't let anyone hear that!
Q: If you had to describe yourself, who is Jelena Jankovic?
JJ: Very few people get to know me close up, how I really am. When you spend time with me 24/7, I’m a positive person. When I wake up in the morning, I like to laugh. I enjoy life. I'm happy to be alive, to be healthy. I have lots of things I can be proud of. There's no reason for me to wake up miserable. I don't like to fight, to have arguments. I like to look at things in a positive way. And I like to make people laugh. I love hanging out with people who have a sense of humor. One thing is, I'm quite sensitive and emotional. That’s maybe one weakness. Even though I may have a facade that I look strong, confident at times, deep down inside I can get hurt quite easily. But that's mostly with people that I love, who are close to me. Those are the ones who can get to me.
Q: Music-wise, what are you listening to these days?
JJ: I'm listening to Latin music because of [new coach and former top-10 player] Guillermo Canas. It’s like I'm learning Spanish through music. He's putting on Latin music in the car, on his phone, everywhere. But I enjoy it. It's kind of like reggaeton. It's quite cool, like Daddy Yankee. [Jankovic then takes out her phone and queues up one of the Puerto Rican rapper's videos.] But I like a variety of music, Serbian songs, American. It depends on my mood. I go from Justin Beiber to Serbian to Latin. I'm all over the place, but it's cool. I enjoy the rhythm. But I would love to learn to dance!