Jelena Jankovic won the first set in convincing fashion Sunday, casting doubt on what looked like an inevitable run to a third Family Circle Cup title for world No. 1 Serena Williams.
BY THE NUMBERS49 -- WTA Tour victories for Serena1 -- Set lost in five FCC matches for Serena8,752 -- Fans at Sunday’s finals
But in the first game of the second set, Williams held up her tennis racket as Jankovic served, the second time Williams felt that Jankovic had served before she was ready.
“How long do I have to wait?” a perturbed Jankovic asked chair umpire Kader Nouni.
The answer came from Serena.
“Until I’m ready,” Williams growled.
The championship match may have turned toward Serena anyway, but that moment served as an easy line of demarcation. Williams won the next eight points, the next six games and 12 of the next 14, her 3-6, 6-0, 6-2 win on Billie Jean King Court giving her three Family Circle Cup championships and 49 career tournament titles on the WTA Tour.
Jankovic, ranked 18th and the 2007 FCC champion, looked back on the moment — she was up, 40-15 — with regret.
“It broke my momentum,” the 28-year-old Serb said. “I started making a lot of mistakes. I gave her some games and let her back in the match. That was my mistake.”
The head games began early in this match under a brilliant blue sky. Jankovic owned a 4-5 record against Serena coming in, one of the better marks on the WTA Tour, and had beaten both Williams sisters in one 24-hour period in Rome in 2010.
After Serena held at love to open the match, she walked directly to the other side of the court while Jankovic took her time during the changeover, making Serena wait. Once during the first set, Serena felt Jankovic had quick-served her and held up her racket.
The second time it happened, Jankovic protested to the umpire.
“She was in position,” Jankovic said. “That’s why I served. It’s not like I’m going to serve when she’s turned around. I didn’t understand that.”
Williams downplayed the incident.
“I just told her I wasn’t ready,” Serena said. “She plays fast. There’s a couple of players on tour that play really, really fast, and she appears to be one of them, so I just wasn’t ready. And I can’t be ready to play if I’m not ready.”
Whatever the case, the 31-year-old Williams was certainly ready in the second and third sets. Both players have had a long month — Serena won in Miami last week, while Jankovic made the semifinals — but Jankovic spent twice as much time on court this week (almost 10 hours) as did Williams (4:49).
That showed in the third set, as Serena broke serve in the third and seventh game, though she needed three match points in the end.
“I was tired, but that’s not an excuse,” said Jankovic, who had five aces but also seven double faults. “I fought as hard as I could, gave my best on the court. But she was the better one, that’s for sure.”
Williams won $125,000, putting her over the $43.3 million mark for her career. She dropped only one set during the week, beat her sister Venus in the semifinals and won for the third time this year. And she joins Chris Evert (eight titles), Martina Navratilova (four) and Steffi Graf (four) as the only players with three or more FCC titles.
But there won’t be much of a party at home.
“The last three weeks have been intense,” she said. “I don’t really celebreate so much anymore. I try to go home, get with my other two girls, my two dogs. I miss them. And go to sleep in my own bed, that will be a great celebration.”
Serena owns 15 Grand Slam titles and must be considered the favorite at the next Slam, the French Open. But she vowed not to get ahead of herself after winning Charleston and losing in the first round at Roland Garros last year.
“I can’t let that hang over me,” she said. “It’s not that big of a deal. For me, you’ve got to let that bad energy go and just accept good things to come in your life, and it will.”