In a tournament with multiple withdrawals, this was a first round matchup with big names. Former world number one Jelena Jankovic took on third seed Monica Niculescu in the Hobart International. The head-to-head was strongly in Jankovic’s favor at 5-2 but Niculescu won their last two meetings.
In the Sydney heat, it was Jankovic making a lot of errors as Niculescu took the first set with aplomb. The Serbian despite breaking first in the second set continued to make needless errors. She was also affected by a foot issue midway through the set and the most consistent player, Niculescu, went on to seal a 6-2, 6-3 win to advance to the second round.
Jankovic rues wasted chances as Niculescu grabs the first set
It was Niculescu’s serve which was tested first. Jankovic though failed to capitalize on her chances as the Romanian managed to hold on for 2-1. The Serbian had another chance to break first in the match but Niculescu was equal to it. The chances wasted eventually came to haunt the Serbian though as despite going 30-0 in the sixth game, her errors cost her to go down a break for 2-4.
Jankovic struggled to find her rhythm while Niculescu was hitting with more confidence mixing up her slices with the occasional drop shots to great effect. The Romanian build up a comfortable 5-2 lead and pressure was back on the Serbian’s serve. Jankovic fired some amazing backhands but eventually caved into Niculescu with the Romanian winning her fourth game in a row to clinch the first set 6-4.
Jankovic fights back but fizzles away
Jankovic’s errors continued in the second set and she faced an early break point in the second game. However, a sizzling backhand down the line fended off the danger temporarily. Niculescu had another chance to break but it was snuffed out by the Serbian who eventually got on board with a thunderous backhand winner. Niculescu then had a chance of her own to gain the advantage but Jankovic hung on.
The Serbian finally got the better of the Romanian finding the edge to eventually seize on break points in the fifth game to take a 3-2 lead. At the sit-down, Jankovic, however, called for a medical timeout as she received treatment on her foot. And when play resumed, Niculescu found her way back into the set breaking to level for 3-3. The momentum was with the Romanian now and with Jankovic still making errors, Niculescu raced ahead to 5-3. And just like in the first set, the Romanian reeled off her fourth straight game to seal a straight sets victory.
Jankovic’s serve did not come to her aid as she put in a mere 49 percent of first serves. In contrast, Niculescu got in 84 percent of her first serves.
Despite hitting twice as many winners as Niculescu 16 to eight, the Serbian had far too many errors at 29 to 15 which eventually became her undoing.