Jankovic opens her defense with a win

Jelena Jankovic defeated Alexandra Stevenson, 7-5, 6-0.

Jelena Jankovic is everywhere on Daniel Island this week.

Her smiling face, with dark-haired ponytail pulled tight, is featured on Family Circle Cup posters and media guides alongside the greats of women's tennis — Chris Evert, Steffi Graf and Martina Navratilova.

Most prominently, there is that giant poster of Jankovic hanging outside Stadium Court, greeting all visitors to the Family Circle Cup.

"My sparring partner was joking, 'I'm getting sick of you already,' " Jankovic said with a shy smile Wednesday.

But Jelena fatigue has yet to set in among Family Circle Cup fans, who greeted her 7-5, 6-0 victory over qualifier Alexandra Stevenson on Stadium Court with a rousing ovation Wednesday afternoon.

Jankovic, the Family Circle Cup's top seed and the No. 5 player in the world, admitted to a bit of trepidation as she stepped on Stadium Court for the first time since her victory here last year, her first Tier I title that launched the first top-10 finish of her career.

"As a defending champion, of course, it's different," said the 23-year-old from Belgrade, Serbia. "You have expectations of yourself, but I'm having fun.

"It's great to be back here, and the fans are really great. I have a lot of supporters, and I look forward to having a good week, hopefully."

With Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams in the other side of the draw, Cup fans should not lose sight of Jankovic in the glare of that pair's star power. Jankovic has yet to win a title this year, but beat Williams at the Australian Open before losing to Sharapova in the semifinals, and pushed Williams to three sets in the finals on hard courts in Miami two weeks ago.

Wednesday's match was her first on clay this year, and that — along with some strong play from Stevenson, a 27-year-old American making a comeback from shoulder injuries — made for a tight first set. Jankovic had never faced Stevenson before, recalling only that Stevenson made the semifinals at Wimbledon in 1999.

"I haven't seen her play in many years, so I didn't know what to expect from her," Jankovic said. "I didn't know how she plays, and when you don't know your opponent, it's difficult."

Neither did Jankovic know what to expect from herself.

"I didn't know how I was going to perform with the sliding, and the court plays so much different," she said. "It takes time to adjust, and first matches are always tough."

Stevenson, ranked as high as No. 18 in the world in 2002, missed much of last year with shoulder problems and got in this tournament as a qualifier, scoring a 7-6, 6-1 win over Alina Jidkova in the first round.

Thirty-three minutes into her match with Jankovic, Stevenson was up 5-4 and was a service break away from taking the first set. She got to deuce three times on Jankovic's serve, but never got a break point as Jankovic pulled even at 5-5.

Stevenson's next service game was a disaster, as Jankovic broke at love for 6-5 and then served out the set.

"I was a little bit kind of cold and stiff, and I was making a lot of errors," Jankovic said. "And Alexandra played quite well in the first set. She was hitting great serves and hit the right balls, and I made all these mistakes.

"But after the first set, I came back a little and lifted my level of play. I was able to finish it stronger."

Jankovic slugged a backhand winner to break Stevenson to start the second set. Down 3-0, Stevenson called for a trainer to wrap her left ankle, but she offered little resistance after that.

Still, for Stevenson the week was an encouraging one. Just getting into the main draw was a big step for the daughter of NBA great Julius Erving. Before getting here, she had lost her last four matches.

"My shoulder's normal, finally," she said. "It's nice to be back, and to be able to practice twice a day."

For Jankovic, it was a promising start to what she hopes will be another poster-making week. She seeks to join Evert, Navratilova, Graf, Gabriela Sabatini, Conchita Martinez and Justine Henin as players who have won the Family Circle Cup more than once.

"It's really nice to see myself next to all those champions," she said. "All these women who have won this tournament, and I'm one of them. It's great to be part of that."