CINCINNATI -- After their respective wins in Saturday night's semifinals, No. 4 Maria Sharapova and No. 13 Jelena Jankovic will meet Sunday at 4 p.m. (on ESPN2) in the final of the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati.
Sharapova, the 2010 runner-up in Cincinnati, booked her spot in the final first, defeating compatriot No. 2 Vera Zvonareva 2-6, 6-3, 6-3. Sharapova had a difficult time finding any sort of rhythm on her groundstrokes in the first set, making errors early in points and allowing Zvonareva to dictate play. But she found her rhythm after a visit from coach Thomas Hogstedt between the first and second sets, and with some improved serving, dug out the second and third sets.
Jelena Jankovic, the 2009 champion in Cincinnati, had a somewhat easier time in her semifinal, beating No. 9 Andrea Petkovic 7-6(4), 6-1. Petkovic partially tore her meniscus in her quarterfinal match against Nadia Petrova, and worried that she had re-injured her ACL, an injury that had kept her out for eight months in 2008. But though her leg was thoroughly mummified with tape, Petkovic played and moved well, forcing Jankovic to play some of her best tennis to win the first set. Jankovic cruised in the second set, showing vintage form with the combination of defense and counter-punching shotmaking that took her to WTA No. 1 in 2008.
The final between Sharapova and Jankovic should be a fun one. Sharapova leads their head-to-head 5-1, and the pair's animosity toward one another dates back to their childhood days playing at Nick Bolletieri's academy in Florida.
The normally long-winded Jankovic had little to say when I asked about her history with Sharapova, giving her shortest answer of the night by some length.
SBN: You have a great record against a lot of top players, the Williams Sisters especially, but Maria is not a player you have a very good record against. You two go back a long way. Can you talk about your history with her and what's made it so difficult for you to win against her in the past?
Jelena Jankovic: Yeah, actually we haven't played against each other for a while now. I mean, she's playing very well in this moment. It's going to be a tough match. I want to try my best. I want to try to play my best tennis. We'll see. Hopefully it'll be a good match.
Maria Sharapova, who once sarcastically remarked "is her last name Jankovic?" when Victoria Azarenka took a dubious injury time out, said slightly more about one of her oldest rivals.
SBN: You could play Jelena Jankovic tomorrow, which you mentioned before. I know you've had in your past a lot contentious matches with her. Can you talk about your history with her and how playing her is different than playing another player for you?
Maria Sharapova: Yeah, if she wins, like I said, we haven't played against each other for a while, so it'll be nice to compete against one another. We've known each other since we were very young. We grow up in Florida together in the same sort of group. Going back in the juniors, we played a lot of the matches against each other and we had many battles.
And here we are, you know, on professional tennis level. So, yeah, I think we know each other's game quite well. It's good to see her back at this stage. She's a great player. She was No. 1 in the world, so it's no joke.
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