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U.S. Open: Jankovic, Lucic, the heat and the triumph

August 31, 2010 | 12:41 pm

Fourth-seeded Jelena Jankovic will play Mirjana Lucic in the second round of the U.S. Open. Jankovic, widely considered the best player never to have won a major, was sullen and sluggish and seemed barely able to move from side to side on Arthur Ashe Stadium court Tuesday.

Admittedly it was a hot 95 degrees, with the tournament heat rule in effect allowing women to take 10-minute breaks between the second and third sets. And Jankovic did pull out her match against Romania's Simona Halep, an 18-year-old ranked 96th in the world, 6-4, 4-6, 7-5. It took 2 hours, 20 minutes for Jankovic to prevail.

Lucic, 28, who is ranked 150th in the world, beat former top-20 player Alicia Molik of Australia, 7-6 (5), 6-1. Lucic was once a happy, ponytailed teenage who romped to the Wimbledon semifinals when she was 18 after her mother and siblings left her father whom she accused of hitting her. Lucic, of Croatia, eventually came to America and was entangled in lawsuits with management company IMG, and for much of the last decade she has been missing from big-time tennis.

After her first round win Tuesday, Lucic was beaming. "I feel fantastic," Lucic said. "I'm so happy. I worked so hard to get here. This is my first U.S. Open in seven years and it feels incredible. "

Lucic said she has been practicing in Bradenton, Fla., at the United States Tennis Academy. She's been playing $25,000 satellite circuit events and played her way into the main draw here by winning three qualifying matches.

After giving a quick recap of her last few years -- "I struggled, I was out for nearly four years, I come back, I expect to start off where I left off, it doesn't really work that way" -- Lucic said she finds joy in winning a single match.

"Every match I win now, it's like winning an entire tournament. Every match gives me such satisfaction. I enjoy it so much. Just the fact that I have the ability to do it again, I'm really happy out there."

-- Diane Pucin

Photo: Jelena Jankovic. Credit: Don Emmert / AFP/Getty Images