Prudential Hong Kong Tennis Open

Queen of Hearts Jelena Jankovic loses her crown in Hong Kong Tennis Open semi-final loss to Caroline Wozniaki

Defending champion from Serbia is unable to contain an inspired Wozniacki, who will be the massive favourite against Frenchwoman Mladenovic in Sunday’s final

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 15 October, 2016, 11:04pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 October, 2016, 12:35am

Jelena Jankovic could probably pinpoint the moment her Prudential Hong Kong Tennis Open crown slipped from her grasp.

It was likely the moment Hawk-Eye malfunctioned on Centre Court and an expectant crowd that was overwhelmingly in her corner was told by the sheepish umpire, rather than shown, that the decision had come down on the wrong side for the reigning champion.

That was most probably when she knew her days as the queen of Victoria Park were over after her 6-3, 6-4 semi-final loss.

She had thrown everything at her opponent, the inspired Caroline Wozniacki, but just found that lady luck was with the Dane on this particular day.

There were moments preceding that one, which may have suggested the 31-year-old’s grip on the Hong Kong title was being loosened.

It could have been either of two other narrow Hawk-Eye challenges that appeared for all the world to be on her side to the naked eye, but were in fact found to be in Wozniacki’s favour by the very finest of margins.

In the end, all the Serbian could do was laugh ruefully. She knew it wasn’t going to be her day.

Her reign in Hong Kong has been a happy one. The Centre Court crowd was almost exclusively pro-Jankovic and on the few occasions when she looked spent and all she could muster was a smile with her hands on her hips, the crowd took it as an invitation to issue an extended rallying cry for her.

The Serbian’s on-court histrionics and easy manner are fast ascending her to that other throne, as the queen of the fans’ hearts.

That title is currently held by the evergreen, and ever-present, Venus Williams. But the American great can’t go on forever, and Jankovic is primed to fill her sizable shoes.

“Yeah, I enjoyed tonight, why not?,” said Jankovic. “I really enjoy the crowd here. At the end of the day tennis is just a game and something you should enjoy.

“I don’t only enjoy it when I’m winning. When I do stupid things, I laugh at myself but that’s part of the game. I really enjoyed playing here even though I lost.”

That laissez-faire approach is a sure-fire route to the heart of the casual fan who has no hometown hero to pull for.

It can be assumed that her conqueror on Saturday does not share that approach. Wozniacki was on fire. She was focus personified and flew out of the blocks returning everything the Serbian could throw at her with laser precision. It was the spirited performance of a player, who at 26, is eager to show that, despite suggestions to the contrary, she is far from finished with the game.

“I think I can be very proud of myself and the way I’ve managed to fight back [after injury],” said the 24-time WTA titlist.

“Before the US Open I was around 80 in the rankings and now I’m back in the top 20. Most importantly I’ve been playing well and getting a lot of wins.

“I think that’s something I’m very proud of. Just proving to myself that I’m one of the top players and I’m tough to beat is ... regardless of how I do tomorrow, I think I can call that a success.”

Her opponent on Sunday will be a player still looking for her maiden singles title on the tour. The 23-year-old Kristina Mladenovic, is mostly regarded as a doubles specialist, but her impressive 7-5, 6-3 win over Daria Gavrilova, the fiery Australian, in Saturday’s earlier semi-final has earned her a shot at a first WTA crown.

The odds are against her, but there have already been an inordinate number of giant-slayings witnessed at this year’s Hong Kong Open. Why not Sunday, too?

Sometime after 5 o’clock on Sunday, there will be a coronation for the new queen of the Victoria Park Centre Court. But Jankovic may already have done enough to become the new queen of hearts.