DUBAI // If Jelena Jankovic was a pugilist, she would have done pretty well for herself.
The Serb, making her 11th appearance at the Dubai Duty Free Championships, has a knack of hanging in there and taking the knocks, a bit like a Muhammad Ali, and then hunting down her exhausted and usually frustrated opponent.
She has done it regularly over the years and she did it again Tuesday, against an opponent 12 years her junior.
Belinda Bencic, the fifth seed, was the favourite to win this encounter. She was the form player having reached the Saint Petersburg final last week. She had also subdued Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber in a Fed Cup match.
Jankovic, however, knew the indoor courts of freezing Saint Petersburg were a different world to the outdoors of a warm Dubai evening. She waited, refusing to give up after losing the opening set 6-4.
Then she got broken in the seventh game of the second set and Bencic looked as though she would cruise towards a routine win.
Jankovic, however, chose that moment to pounce on her unsuspecting opponent. She broke Bencic at love in the eighth game and that proved to be the turning point.
The Swiss wilted under Jankovic’s relentless onslaught, losing 4-6, 7-5, 6-4 following a two-hour, 31-minute battle.
“It was really difficult match,” said Jankovic, a former world No 1.
“I just fought hard. I was hanging in there every point.”
Bencic did concede the transition from Saint Petersburg to Dubai was not easy one, but refused to offer that as an excuse.
“That’s part of being a professional tennis player and it’s something that we all have to cope with,” Bencic, 18, said.
“I think the match could have gone either way. It was just one or two points that made the difference. Of course, I am disappointed to have lost, but it’s a long season and I need to turn my focus to the next tournament.”
The win has earned Jankovic a second- round clash with her good friend Andrea Petkovic, and that match is not going to be any easier.
The two have not played each other since the summer of 2013, but the German holds a 4-2 head-to-head advantage.
“Another tough match,” said Jankovic, disappointed that the match will be played on Court 1. “I know Andy pretty well. She’s a good friend of mine. We train with each other. It’s going to be another difficult match.
“There are no secrets to our games. The best one will win. I will try my best to play some good tennis.”
That usually means gutting it out on the court and Jankovic is pretty good at that.
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