Jelena Jankovic made it to her first Grand Slam final and Serena Williams ended the five-year drought of American women in the US Open decider as they won their semi-finals in straight sets on Friday.
Both overcame Russian opponents — Jankovic beat Elena Dementieva 6-4, 6-4, while Williams downed Dinara Safina 6-3, 6-2.
It will be Williams’ 12th Grand Slam final and Jankovic’s first, and in addition to the silver trophy at stake, the winner will rise to No. 1 in the rankings next week.
The final was scheduled for last night, but forecasts of rain prompted tournament organizers to announce contingency plans that could include postponing the match until today.
It will be Williams’ first appearance in a US Open final since she won it in 2002 and no American had made it since. It is also nine years since her first final at Flushing Meadows, which she won as a 17-year-old.
She got off to a shaky start against Safina. Broken in her first service game, Williams fell behind 2-0, but won seven of the next eight games, eventually doing a much better job than Safina of dealing with a gusty wind.
Safina wound up with 41 unforced errors and repeatedly rolled her eyes, shook her head or shouted at herself in English or Russian, much the way her brother and former US Open champion Marat Safin does. After hitting her fifth double-fault of the match she yelled: “I hate the wind.”
Two points after that, Safina pushed a backhand long and Williams broke to lead 2-1 in the second set.
The whipping air played havoc with serve tosses — the women combined for 11 double-faults — and all manner of other strokes. The US flag at one end of the Arthur Ashe Stadium rippled so loudly that Safina turned to glare at it before one serve.
Down 2-1 in the first set, Williams broke Safina, but needed three break points to do it. The American then broke to a 5-3 lead when Safina put a forehand into the net and a similar miscue ended the set in the next game.
Safina did not go quietly though, breaking at love to tie the second at 1-1. It was in the next game that Williams charged onto a drop shot and hit a ground-stroke straight into the Russian.
Jankovic lost eight of the first nine points and fell behind 2-0 and 4-2. But as Dementieva became more tentative and more erratic, Jankovic reeled off five consecutive games to claim the first set and a 1-0 edge in the second.
Jankovic also trailed by a break at 3-2 in the second set, before coming back again. She got plenty of help — 42 of the 66 points the Serb won came from unforced errors by the fifth-seeded Dementieva.
Jankovic entered the match with an 0-4 record in Grand Slam semi-finals, including losses at this year’s Australian Open and French Open. But she kept tracking down balls, running the baseline and stretching her racket, extending points until Dementieva missed.
Dementieva had a golden opportunity to take control of the match when she led 4-2 in the first set and was up 0-30 on Jankovic’s serve. Two more points and Dementieva would have served for the set.
Instead, Dementieva missed three service returns and Jankovic’s backhand winner ended a 21-stroke point and the game. Dementieva began the next game by double-faulting and eventually was broken.