MASON, Ohio (AP)
- Jelena Jankovic beat top-ranked Dinara Safina 6-4, 6-2 on Sunday to win the Cincinnati Open and put herself back among the contenders for the U.S. Open title.
"My smile is back and I'm having fun playing the matches," the Serbian player said. "This is what I missed. I missed this for maybe seven months this year."
It was a day of grins after some very tough months.
The $2 million Western & Southern Financial Group Women's Open was only Jankovic's second title of the year, the opposite of what she'd expected. Jankovic moved up to No. 1 last August, held the top spot for a 18 weeks, then went about revamping her game in the offseason. She put on 15 pounds of muscle, looking for more power.
When she got back to tournament play, she felt slow and stiff. She faded out of the top group. She was distracted when her mother, Snezana, became ill and needed surgery. The rock-bottom moment came at Wimbledon, where 17-year-old qualifier Melanie Oudin beat her in the third round.
She took a month off to help her mother get through surgery and overhaul her approach to tennis. She cut chocolate and cola from her diet. She went back to playing her style from 2008.
On Sunday, it all came together again. She'll move up a spot to No. 4 when next week's rankings come out.
"I'm happy that I'm back," she said. "I'm back in this group of (top) players."
No one expected much from her Sunday, when she walked onto heat-baked center court still feeling the effects of one of the most draining matches she's ever played. She needed 2 hours, 46 minutes to beat Elena Dementieva in the semifinals on Saturday night.
Jankovic couldn't believe she won that match. Down 6-2 in the third-set tiebreaker, she took some risks and pulled it out. She wondered how much she'd have left for the final.
"I wanted to make myself believe that 'You're not tired, I feel fresh, I'm ready to play,"' she said. "That's how I felt in the match, actually. When I woke up this morning I felt really sore, especially after going to sleep at 2 a.m."
Safina was fresher, but Jankovic was sharper.
The 24-year-old Serb barely made a mistake while taking a tight first set - only nine unforced errors. She showed she was up to the challenge by breaking Safina to go up 2-1, then holding serve the rest of the way. Jankovic darted from sideline to sideline chasing down shots, getting whatever Safina hit her way.
"I was just a little bit off today, I would say," Safina said. "I don't know. I was feeling very confident stepping into the court, and then I was just totally off. My legs were not moving anywhere, and I was just not doing the things that I was supposed to on the court and I let her dictate."
Jankovic broke Safina's serve in the first and third games for a 3-0 lead and establish control of the match.
Before accepting the crystal trophy, Jankovic walked over to the stands and embraced her father, Veselin. Her mother used to accompany her on the tour, but is back home in Serbia recovering from the operation. Her father has been the sometimes reluctant fill-in.
"I dedicate this win to her," Jankovic said, referring to her mother. "I wanted to make her happy. It's important. But my dad - you know, it's tough for him to watch. He gets really nervous out there. It's tough watching your kid."