LONDON // Jelena Jankovic, the top-ranked player in the world at the start of this year but with little to write home about since, suffered an early Wimbledon exit yesterday at the hands of a relatively unknown American qualifier.
Melanie Oudin, 17, who had never won a grand slam match until she arrived at The All England Club, outlasted the Serbian in stamina-sapping heat to enjoy the biggest day of her short career and claim an unexpected place in the last 16. Entering these championships rated a humble 124 on the WTA computer, Oudin - whose previous claim to fame had been to call herself the world's best junior until Britain's Laura Robson beat her last year - capitalised impressively on her opponent's wilting under the sun to claim an outstanding 6-7, 7-5, 6-2 victory.
Jankovic needed treatment at the umpire's chair after prevailing 10-8 in an exciting first set tie-break and came perilously close to defaulting as the clock ticked past the permitted three minutes. With a doctor in attendance she was given every opportunity to recover but it was clear from the belated resumption that she was not going press on towards what should have been a routine win. "I felt dizzy and thought I was going to end up in hospital," said Jankovic. "I felt quite weak out there. It was difficult for me to play properly and it made me very nervous. I wanted to cry because I didn't have the energy to hit the shots."
Jankovic left nobody sitting around Court Three in any doubt that she was not feeling well as she sulked and pouted through the ensuing two sets. The message was conveyed in no uncertain terms to the American of French descent and, providing she could remain composed, a major scalp was hers for the taking. The teenager's defining moment came at 5-5 in the second set as she trailed 15-30 with Jankovic in sight of being able to serve for the match. The bravest of drop shots averted the crisis and after that she never looked back, breaking in the next game to draw level and dominating the deciding set.
Oudin, 17, dreamed of playing at Wimbledon after watching the Williams sisters on television but her fellow Americans are not her childhood idols. At 5ft 6in tall, she was a big fan of the equally diminutive Justine Henin, who retired last year as world No 1. Asked whether this was the most important day of her life, she responded: "Maybe that's getting a little bit carried away. I'm very excited right now but I'm hoping there will be better days to come."
Ana Ivanovic, who like her Serbian compatriot Jankovic has succeeded Henin at the top of the rankings, was considered more vulnerable than Jankovic in her third-round match. Ivanovic, whose career has gone backwards since reaching its zenith at last year's French Open, was up against the improving Australian Samantha Stosur who cast aside her "doubles specialist" label by reaching the semi-finals at this year's Roland Garros.
The powerful Stosur, who has broken into the top 20 for the first time, looked confident of sending the 13th seed packing, especially after retrieving an early service break to draw level at 5-5 but Ivanovic refused to buckle and finished much the stronger, an impressive 7-5, 6-2 victor. "I'm very happy," said Ivanovic, whose on-court demeanour contrasted sharply with that of Jankovic. "I think my tactics and game plan prevailed over my emotions."
An indication that self-belief is returning to Ivanovic came from her comments about having to take on defending champion Venus Williams - an easy 6-0, 6-4 winner yesterday against Spain's Carla Suarez Navarro - in the last 16 tomorrow. "Two years ago I played her in the semi-final here, so I can take a lot from that match," she said. "I feel I have been playing better with every match here so I'm really happy to take that challenge to play against a top player like her.
"She's very dangerous opponent, but I think I have a great chance, and I feel very comfortable going in that match. I'm so excited." Svetlana Kuznetsova, the French Open champion, was another surprise casualty, the fifth seed who has never been beyond the quarter-finals here, going out 6-2, 7-5 to the 41st-ranked Sabina Lisicki. Meanwhile, Amelie Mauresmo beat Flavia Pennetta 7-5, 6-3.