You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘Ana Ivanovic’ tag.

Many are the stars that rise and fall, but few are the stars that rise again.  Such was the challenge that confronted Ivanovic in 2010, eighteen months removed from her major breakthrough at Roland Garros and the Wimbledon loss to Zheng that began her ordeal in tennis purgatory.  From the two halves of this season emerged strikingly divergent answers to the question of whether the soulful Serb could regain her position among the sport’s elite.  We attempt to untie the tangled knot of Ivanovic’s sometimes puzzling, often emotional, ultimately inspiring 2010.

***

Having endured a dismal conclusion to 2009, Ana ignited the new season with an moderately promising performance.  Her confidence heightening with each victory, she conquered the ever-inflammable Dokic and the budding Pavlyuchenkova during a sprightly week in Brisbane.  Few observers could fault her for falling to Henin in the semifinals, for the Belgian always had troubled Ivanovic even at the Serb’s zenith in 2007-08.  Consequently, hope stirred in Ana and her supporters as she approached the major where she had reached the final two years before.  But an excruciating second-round loss to Dulko extinguished that hope in a torrent of unforced errors that inspired one observer to note that two prettier women never had played uglier tennis.  After the feckless Argentine squandered a vast lead in the final set, Ana donated three double faults at 4-5 that effectively handed the match to her opponent.

An equally public and painful embarrassment struck in February, when Ivanovic lost both of her singles rubbers for Serbia during the first Fed Cup World Group tie in her nation’s history.  Exacerbating her plight was the prowess demonstrated by her compatriot Jankovic, who scored gritty three-set victories that placed the Russians in a predicament from which Ana promptly released them.  With this debacle branded upon her consciousness, Ana departed in the first round of Indian Wells after a listless loss to Sevastova.  Unable to capitalize upon the memories of two previous finals in the California desert, Ivanovic tumbled outside the top 50 and caused others to wonder whether she shared more than a first name with Kournikova.  A tepid trip through Miami hardly erased these perceptions, although a valiant effort against Radwanska illustrated her unbroken determination.  Struggling to hold serve throughout that match, the Serb battled to break as often as she was broken (e.g., constantly) and extended the Pole deep into both sets.  In an unkind twist of fate, she would fall against to Radwanska in a similarly competitive match at Stuttgart, during which glimpses of her former self surfaced fleetingly but then vanished at the most pivotal moments.  As she crossed the Alps with much less fanfare than did Hannibal, Ivanovic surely could not have imagined the breakthrough that awaited her.

Ana Ivanovic Ana Ivanovic of Serbia celebrates winning against Nadia Petrova of Russia during Day Foir of the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour at the Foro Italico Tennis Centre on May 6, 2010 in Rome, Italy.

Embedded near Azarenka in the Rome draw, Ivanovic found herself forced to overcome an opponent who had dominated her at Roland Garros a year earlier.  Much to her own surprise, it seemed, she navigated past the injury-addled Belarussian with timely returning and enhanced consistency during their baseline exchanges.  Not satisfied with this unexpected triumph, however, Ana translated her momentum into an even more encouraging victory over Dementieva, who had won all five of their previous meetings.  When the Russian threatened to slip away with the second set, Ivanovic carefully balanced aggressive ball-striking with intelligent shot selection, determined to seize opportunities rather than grant them.  While both Azarenka and Dementieva fell far short of their customary standard in these matches, Ana visibly rose in confidence as her forehands struck their targets more explosively and her ball toss obeyed her more scrupulously.  By the climactic stages of her quarterfinal victory over Petrova, her signature fistpumps also began to flow more naturally.  She no longer hoped but expected to win.  Succumbing to quirky lefty and eventual champion Martinez Sanchez in the semifinals, Ivanovic suffered a predictable defeat to Jankovic in her Madrid opener.  More notable than the narrative of this match was the venomous conduct of the elder Serb afterwards.  Yet the younger Serb showed greater maturity than her compatriot, and the episode subsided sooner than Jankovic probably had hoped.

After Ivanovic staggered to premature exits at the next two majors, one wondered whether her breakthrough in Rome would prove a beguiling mirage, like the clay title surges of Martinez Sanchez and Rezai.  The 2008 French Open champion displayed little of the vigor and poise that she had accumulated a few weeks earlier, mustering just three games in the second round against a remorseless Kleybanova.  During the all-too-brief respites from the Russian’s assault, Ana’s eloquent eyes mournfully contemplated a world that had turned against her once again.  Perhaps still reeling from this ignominious defeat, she left little imprint upon the grass season, except a bizarre match at the Dutch Open when she reached double digits in both aces and double faults.  After Ana slumped to a first-round defeat at Wimbledon, her 2010 record stood at 11-12 with just four victories outside Brisbane and Rome.

Ana Ivanovic Ana Ivanovic of Serbia in action against Shahar Peer of Israel on Day One of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on June 21, 2010 in London, England.

Across the Atlantic, Montreal tournament director Eugene Lapierre pondered this grim statistic and arrived at a decision that we believe contributed (unwittingly) to the Serb’s second-half resurgence.  Already granted wildcards at events in Stanford and San Diego where she had little or no history, Ana received the demoralizing news that she would not receive a wildcard at the site of her first significant title in 2006.  Instantly awash in controversy, Lapierre justified himself by claiming that the former #1 would benefit from the additional matches.  Not without logic in a neutral context, this statement accompanied a series of disparaging remarks that antagonized the normally demure Ana.  Having considered her alternatives, she announced that she would not enter the Montreal qualifying draw.  These bold words demanded deeds to buttress them, though, and nothing from the California events suggested that she would reverse her downward spiral.

Nor, in fact, did the early stages of her Cincinnati opener against Azarenka, who had recovered from the injury that had plagued her during their clay meeting and had recorded her best week of the season at Stanford.  While Ana struggled to find a rhythm with her once-fearsome forehand, Vika swept through the first set with ease, showcasing her skill for modulating between aggression and consistency.  Although Ivanovic began to harness her game during the second set, the Belarussian clung to a slim lead until she served for the match at 5-4.  A few tense moments later, Ana drew even—and then dropped her recalcitrant serve again.  Offered another opportunity to advance, Azarenka twice crept within two points of victory during the following game but never saw a match point.  Elated by her narrow escape, the Serb seized control of the ensuing tiebreak and thundered through the final set as the formerly scattered elements of her arsenal coalesced into a coherent whole.  Now soaring in confidence, Ivanovic overpowered her next three opponents with authoritative performances built upon a reinvigorated serve, opportunistic returns, and ambitious forays into the forecourt.  Forced to retire early in her semifinal with Clijsters, the Serb nevertheless had reasserted herself as a formidable competitor with weapons as lethal as her smile was benign.

Unlike Rome, Cincinnati became not an isolated anomaly but a platform from which Ivanovic sprang into the rest of 2010.  Dispelling doubts concerning her injury there, she matched her best career performance at the US Open with three commanding victories.  Formerly fallible against lefties during her slump, she dismissed the distinctive, often tricky Makarova with ease.  But the most promising portent for Ivanovic’s future was the encore of her 2008 Wimbledon clash with Zheng, during which she buried the Chinese star beneath an avalanche of stinging forehands and knifing volleys.  Against one of her key tormentors from the previous two years, Ana maintained a focus and composure that revealed her revitalized self-belief.  Although more resounding than she would have wished, her loss to Clijsters in the fourth round raised no eyebrows, nor did it substantially stall her progress.  After losses to the nondescript Dushevina in Seoul and the far from nondescript Bartoli in Tokyo, the Serb’s final tournaments of the season consolidated the shift in her fortunes that originated in Cincinnati and accelerated in New York.

Having faced Radwanska in consecutive matches during the spring, Ivanovic faced Bartoli in consecutive matches during the fall.  But the Serb efficiently avenged Tokyo in her Beijing opener, and her level continued to climb on the medium-speed hard courts of the former Olympic arena.  Reprising her Rome victory over Dementieva, she wrested two tiebreaks away from the Russian veteran with patient point construction and penetrating groundstrokes on both wings.  In the scintillating second set, neither player dropped serve until they reached the tiebreak, although Ivanovic saved a set point at 4-5.  Responding to the heightening pressure with aplomb, she delivered two timely aces in the tiebreak as she rallied from an early mini-break deficit.  A victim of world #1 Wozniacki in the quarterfinals, the Serb nevertheless competed with conviction and earned herself more opportunities than one might have expected.  When she accepted a wildcard to the following week’s tournament in Linz, therefore, she brought significant momentum from her exploits in the Chinese capital.

Rarely threatened throughout her week in the quiet Austrian city, Ana brushed aside her friend Cirstea in the first round, the pugnacious Zahlavova Strycova in the second round, and rising German Julia Goerges in the quarterfinal to reach her fourth semifinal of 2010.  Her determination emerged when she surmounted the distractions caused by a stomach illness and a bathroom break that cost her a game early in her second match.  Winless in her previous three semifinals, she halted that trend against the crafty Roberta Vinci, who had held match points against her during their previous meeting.  Having defused this Italian’s versatile style, a stern test of focus and consistency, Ana faced another veteran in the evergreen Schnyder.  In the shortest WTA final of 2010, Ivanovic surrendered just three games before sealing the title with an ace.  Adapting to Schnyder’s eccentric style, she cleverly anticipated her opponent’s gambits and often wrong-footed the Swiss star by pinpointing unexpected angles.  More splendid than any of the forehands that crackled through the court, however, was the glacier-melting smile that glowed from Ana’s face as she grasped her first trophy in two years.

Physically and emotionally weary from the weeks in Beijing and Linz, Ana collected two wins in Luxembourg before exiting to Goerges.  Those victories put her in position for a return to the top 20, however, a goal with which she entered the year’s concluding tournament in Bali.  Always at her best against Pavlyuchenkova, the Serb scored the first of the three victories that she required with minimal effort, for the erratic Russian failed to mount a credible challenge.  Far more suspenseful was the ensuing clash with Japanese veteran Kimiko Date Krumm, who had built an implausible comeback upon the bones of several top-20 foes.  Unfamiliar with the arrhythmic, unpredictable playing style of her opponent, Ivanovic sank into a first-set quagmire from which she extricated herself only after saving two set points on her own serve and breaking Date a game later.  Emboldened by the momentum shift, the Linz champion then raced into a 7-5, 2-0 advantage before the Japanese star could collect herself.  But Date had proved herself an indefatigable competitor throughout 2010, and she crafted a comeback that turned the tables on the Serb.  Just as Ivanovic saved set points before winning the first set, Date saved a match point before winning the second set.  At this stage, one favored the veteran to prevail as she had in several epics this year, for the momentum rested squarely in her corner, while Ivanovic’s fitness had raised concern in recent months.  Somewhat to our surprise, then, Ana remained unshaken by the lost second-set opportunity, recaptured the initiative by breaking Date in the first game, and held serve throughout the final set without facing a break point.  Another meeting with Kleybanova, the final unfolded in less nerve-jangling fashion; the Russian never held a lead except during a brief ebb in the Serb’s concentration early in the second set.  Sometimes bent but only once broken, Ivanovic showcased not only her familiar forehand weapons but bold, probing backhands that bore little resemblance to the meek slices upon which Kleybanova had feasted at Roland Garros.  During the first half of 2010, Ana had committed some of her most ghastly errors at the most crucial moments.  Now, she unleashed some of her most spectacular lasers when she most needed them, saving break points late in the second set and sealing the tiebreak that restored her to the top 20.

Since she defends only a handful of rankings points between mid-January and mid-May, Ivanovic has an excellent opportunity to rejoin the top 10 by Roland Garros.  Eager to capitalize upon this possibility, she has planned a rigorous schedule for early 2011.  Whether she can continue to ascend from these newly constructed foundations poses one of the more intriguing questions that next year will answer.

***

After these two individual portraits, we broaden our canvas to recall the most memorable performers of 2010. Who enjoyed a season to remember, and who looks most likely to build upon their breakthroughs?  Although we will cover both the ATP and the WTA, we bring you the gentlemen (and some not very gentle men) next.

Advertisements

Without winning a title or even reaching a final, Ana Ivanovic can climb back into the WTA top 5 by the first week of August next year. A guest article from OnCourtAdvantage.com <http://www.OnCourtAdvantage.com> outlines a potential schedule and the results that Ana can record in order to achieve that projection.  (OCA is an organization devoted to the support and promotion of tennis, based in Hong Kong, that is run by a group of highly trained professionals with experience in the tennis industry.  Statistics have been verified by Kevin Fischer at the WTA; title and images supplied by Sharapovanovic.)

Former World No.1 Ana Ivanovic made a very strong finish to the 2010 season to move back into the Top 20.  The 2008 Roland Garros singles champion won 13 of her last 15 matches for the season, with 12 of those victories in straight sets. Following that streak the current World No.17 improved her 2010 win-loss record from 20-18 to 33-20.
 
The 2008 Australian Open runner-up won two of her last four tournaments in 2010, the Tournament of Champions in Bali and Linz in Austria.  The statuesque Serb also reached the quarterfinals of the other two tournaments, including at the Premier Mandatory tournament in Beijing.  There, Ana battled current world No.1 Wozniacki in Beijing through two tense sets before narrowly succumbing to the Dane.  (During this stretch, Ivanovic also made the quarterfinals at the Luxembourg tournament.)

A top-five ranking on the WTA Tour usually requires a player to have a ranking points total in a range between 4700 and 5000 points.  Ivanovic currently has 2,600 WTA ranking points, and her No.17 ranking will see her receive a bye in the 1st round of some events.

Surprisingly, the stylish Serb could return to the Top 5 in the next eight months while reaching one Slam semifinal and advancing beyond the quarterfinals in no other tournament.  This pattern would allow her to predominantly defeat opponents ranked lower than her.  Currently just outside the top 16, she seems likely to enter that group early in the new season.  As a top-16 seed at majors, for example, Ana would need to defeat at most one player ranked above her in order to reach the quarterfinals.  On occasions when she gains a top-16 seed at a 64-player draw, she also would need to defeat at most one higher-ranked player to reach the quarterfinals.

Ivanovic has played in three Grand Slam singles finals and averaged two singles titles per year over the past four years. To meet the projected quarterfinals consistently in the proposed 2011 tournament schedule below, she would need to have a 38-13 win loss record from 13 tournaments. The proposed schedule provides 11 weeks of rest from tournament play and adds only one tournament compared to her tournament load during the same period in 2010.
 
Do you think that Ana can do it? We certainly do!

The following are the results that Ivanovic achieved from her 2010 tournament schedule:
 
Semifinalist – Brisbane = 130pts (32 draw);
2nd round – Australian Open = 100pts (128 draw);
2nd round (bye 1st round) – Indian Wells = 5pts (96 draw);
3rd round (bye 1st round) – Miami = 80pts (96 draw);
1st round – Stuttgart = 1pt (32 draw);
Semifinalist – Rome = 395pts (64 draw);
2nd round (bye 1st round) – Madrid = 5pts (64 draw);
2nd round – Roland Garros = 100pts (128 draw);
2nd round – s-Hertogenbosch = 30pts (32 draw);
1st round – Wimbledon = 5pts (128 draw);
2nd round – Stanford = 60pts (32 draw); and
1st round – San Diego = 1pt (32 draw).

2011 suggested schedule for Ivanovic:

1.  Sydney 30-draw QF = 120pts

2. Australian Open 128-draw QF = 500pts

2 weeks after the Australian Open without tournaments.
Play 2 consecutive weeks in the UAE and Qatar to minimize travel and better acclimatize to the local weather conditions and the court surface.

3. ADD Dubai 56-draw QF =200pts

4. ADD Doha 28-draw QF = 120pts

2 weeks after Doha without tournaments.

5. Indian Wells 96-draw QF = 250

6. Miami 96-draw QF =250

END of hard court season

1 week after Miami without tournament play.
 
START of clay court season:

7. Stuttgart 30-draw QF = 120pts

8. Rome 56-draw QF = 200pts

9. Madrid 64-draw QF = 250pts

1 week after Madrid no tournament

10. Roland Garros 128-draw SF = 900pts  

END of clay court season

1 week after Roland Garros without tournament play.

START of grass court season

Play 2 consecutive weeks in the UK to minimize travel and better acclimatize to the local weather conditions and court surface.

11. Replace s’-Hertogenbosch (Netherlands) 220K with Eastbourne (UK) 28-draw QF = 120pts 

12. Wimbledon QF = 500pts

END of grass court season  

3 weeks after Wimbledon without tournaments

START of the US hard court season

13. Stanford QF = 120pts

Remove San Diego in order to peak for the major tournaments in Toronto and Cincinnati, which are held consecutively.

***

Ivanovic would gain at least 120 points from each of these 13 tournaments.  Since she has five results from August 2010 onwards that provide more than 120 points (Cincinnati, US Open, Beijing, Luxembourg, Bali), she would drop two of the 120-pointers from the first half in order to fulfill the 16-tournament requirement.  Nevertheless, she would have 4990 points by the beginning of August 2011, well within the top-5 range.  From a realistic perspective, we expect Ana to suffer a handful of pre-quarterfinal losses, but we also expect her to surpass the quarterfinals at some events.  Thus, the OCA projection provides a useful measure for the Serb’s potential progress if she extends her momentum from the second half of 2010.  In December, of course, we will review Ivanovic’s season in a special article of our own amidst a series of similar articles that review 2010 in tennis.

We return tomorrow with a preview of the World Tour finals similar to our Doha preview!

[picapp align=”none” wrap=”false” link=”term=ivanovic+2008+french+open&iid=607684″ src=”http://view.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/607684/french-open-roland-garros/french-open-roland-garros.jpg?size=500&imageId=607684&#8243; width=”500″ height=”338″ /]

[picapp align=”none” wrap=”false” link=”term=ivanovic+2010+french+open&iid=8931113″ src=”http://view4.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/8931113/2010-french-open-day-five/2010-french-open-day-five.jpg?size=500&imageId=8931113&#8243; width=”500″ height=”333″ /]

In the 2008 French Open, the new world #1 Ana Ivanovic proudly lifted the first Slam trophy of what seemed destined to be a career replete with such memorable moments.  In the 2010 French Open, the world #42 Ana Ivanovic cowered helplessly behind the baseline as the burly Alisa Kleybanova crammed a second-set bagel down her throat in the second round.  How did this precipitous two-year plunge from glory to misery accelerate with such alarming speed?  We look at seven of the principal explanations for Ivanovic’s struggles, arranged in order from least convincing to most convincing, before concluding with two potential paths by which she can move forward from the crossroads at which she tentatively stands.

[picapp align=”none” wrap=”false” link=”term=ivanovic+2007+berlin&iid=4590820″ src=”http://view.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/4590820/qatar-telecom-german-open/qatar-telecom-german-open.jpg?size=500&imageId=4590820&#8243; width=”424″ height=”594″ /]

7)       the aberration theory:  Inviting the disdainful appellation of “one-Slam wonder,” Ivanovic’s failure to reach even a single major quarterfinal since her French Open triumph has caused commentators to wonder whether that title was merely an accident.  To be sure, the Serb did exploit a cozy draw that featured just one top-10 player (Jankovic) during the entire fortnight.  But she’s achieved outstanding results on all surfaces for an extended period, winning the 2006 Rogers Cup in 2006, capturing the 2007 Berlin title, charging to the 2007 Roland Garros final, and reaching the 2007 Wimbledon semifinals.  Considering that context, her six-month peak stretch from Australia 2008 to Roland Garros 2008 no longer appears an isolated accomplishment but instead the next phase in an accelerating career.  Therefore, the headline here clearly is not her rise but her downfall, contrary to what the most disillusioned observers suggest.

[picapp align=”none” wrap=”false” link=”term=ivanovic+injury&iid=5067501″ src=”http://view2.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/5067501/the-championships/the-championships.jpg?size=500&imageId=5067501&#8243; width=”396″ height=”594″ /]

6)  the injury theory:  When a player endures an extended slump, the first potential culprit to investigate generally is their physical condition.  Choosing this explanation as the official narrative, Ivanovic’s website relentlessly and somewhat embarrassingly leans upon injuries throughout its reports of her struggles.  Upon closer examination, however, one should put her thumb injury in 2008 and various illnesses in 2009 into perspective.  Ana never required surgery or suffered extensive absences from any of her injuries, so they might justify sporadic early defeats but certainly not the two-year quagmire into which she has tumbled.  Despite the leg strain that drenched the Serb’s 2009 Wimbledon campaign in a poignant flood of tears, she was thoroughly outplayed by Venus until that stage and possessed virtually no chance of a comeback; the injury by itself did not prevent her from progressing in that crucial tournament.  The exception to this pattern, a vague yet chronic shoulder injury ominously forced her to withdraw from the Dubai tournament this year.  This issue could prove serious and should be carefully monitored by her fitness assistants.

 

5)  the Kournikova theory:  Igniting comparisons with the stunningly beautiful, stunningly underachieving Russian, Ivanovic has continued to fulfill swarms of sponsor obligations and pose for countless magazines even as her ranking has tumbled.  Kind and accommodating by nature (more on those traits below), she may well have stretched herself too far in this arena.  While the Williams sisters and Sharapova have balanced off-court with on-court activities extremely capably, not every player can effectively divide their energies as do that trio.  On the other hand, certain commentators went altogether too far when they linked Ivanovic’s SI Swimsuit photo shoot before the US Open to her first-round loss there.  It’s highly irrational to suggest that an extra practice session would have assured that her final forehand in a third-set tiebreak would have cleared the net rather than meekly sinking into it.  While her management perhaps has scheduled her overzealously, these “extracurricular” projects also provide her with a psychological respite from her on-court struggles.  For example, Ana’s lifetime Adidas deal surely boosted her morale by demonstrating this key sponsor’s firm confidence in her talents.  (And, of course, there’s the mathematical fact that a female athlete as alluring as Ivanovic can earn more in a year of photo shoots than by winning a dozen Slams, which should make any player hesitate before turning down lucrative offers.)

[picapp align=”none” wrap=”false” link=”term=ivanovic+indian+wells+2008&iid=328628″ src=”http://view2.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/328628/pacific-life-open-day/pacific-life-open-day.jpg?size=500&imageId=328628&#8243; width=”420″ height=”594″ /]

4)  the Serbia theory:  Together with her compatriots Djokovic and Jankovic, Ivanovic often seems to lack the inner motivation that drives most of this sport’s leading competitors.  Listening to moving stories of bombs and swimming pools, one appreciates just how far these three Serbs have come from the extreme adversity in their backgrounds.  Considering this comparison, it would be only human of them to rest satisfied in the knowledge that they have improved their lives more than they ever could have imagined.  Even if none of the Serbs ever wins another significant title, they’ll spend the rest of their lives in comfortable circumstances.  Consequently, they might content themselves with strong but not legendary careers, whereas players who developed in more advantageous surroundings might be more inclined to seek a higher level of achievement in absolute terms—the same level in relative terms to their beginnings.  Without any disrespect to Serbia, we find this theory somewhat credible, although one never will be able to find unambiguous evidence for it.

[picapp align=”none” wrap=”false” link=”term=ivanovic+indian+wells&iid=4330153″ src=”http://view3.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/4330153/bnp-paribas-tennis-indian/bnp-paribas-tennis-indian.jpg?size=500&imageId=4330153&#8243; width=”500″ height=”498″ /]

[picapp align=”none” wrap=”false” link=”term=ivanovic+kiss&iid=579308″ src=”http://view4.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/579308/the-championships/the-championships.jpg?size=500&imageId=579308&#8243; width=”500″ height=”298″ /]

3)  the split-personality theory:  A gentle, self-effacing personality, Ana lacks the steely ferocity of a Serena, Henin, or Sharapova.  Whereas those competitors play with the expectation of victory, Ivanovic plays with the hope of victory.  Cast against type in the role of an athlete, she either underplays her part with tentative body language or overplays it with the ceaseless fist pumps that we discussed in an earlier article.  Rather than demonstrating her hunger for success, those manufactured gestures suggest her discomfort in the match environment and a constant need to reaffirm that she belongs there.  One suspects that the smiling Serb would be much happier in a non-adversarial environment, where she could exploit cooperative rather than competitive skills.  Despite her repeated protestations to the contrary, Ivanovic simply may have chosen the wrong vocation for her temperament, creating a rift between façade and interior that would only deepen as she matures.

 

2)  the expectations theory:  Catapulting suddenly into the #1 ranking shortly after Henin’s unexpected retirement, Ivanovic proved unready to assume the mantle of the game’s dominant star.  While battle-tested competitors such as Federer and Serena welcome the pressure inherent to the top spot, the Serb had not adequately consolidated her elite status when she found herself atop the WTA hierarchy in June 2008.  Bearing the honor more like a cross than a laurel wreath, she played passive, nervous tennis during her two different stretches at the #1 ranking, which was tossed with absurd alacrity among her and two even less qualified top dogs (Jankovic, Safina).  Although Ivanovic had struggled dramatically with her ball toss during the 2007 Roland Garros final, her issues with this component of her game crystallized during this period.  Moreover, she rushed back prematurely from injuries and illness in an effort to justify her exalted status.  As a result, her inner anxieties can be traced back to this period when expectations were thrust upon her before she had developed sufficiently to embrace them rather than hide from them.

[picapp align=”none” wrap=”false” link=”term=ivanovic+backhand&iid=7606632″ src=”http://view.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/7606632/2010-australian-open-day/2010-australian-open-day.jpg?size=500&imageId=7606632&#8243; width=”500″ height=”339″ /]

1)       the evolutionary theory:  From our perspective, the most credible theory of all concerns the trajectory of the sport over the past two years, which favors players who can strike powerful groundstrokes off both wings while playing respectable defense.  Mostly just a neutral or defensive shot, Ivanovic’s backhand possesses far less authority than her forehand and can be easily attacked because of her average movement.  On any fast or medium-fast surface, opponents with more balanced groundstroke arsenals can relentlessly pin her into the backhand corner, neutralizing her power.  Even when Ana pounds her forehand with conviction, therefore, capable foes don’t allow her to see enough balls on that side to win the match with this weapon alone.  Improvements in player movement, meanwhile, allow opponents to track down one or two more of her forehand drives than before, testing her consistency as well as her skill moving forward.  In the recent past, a crushing serve-forehand combination typically proved sufficient to overwhelm opponents, but such is no longer the case.  Therefore, we wonder whether the evolution of the sport simply has passed by the Serb, whose game seems outmoded compared to many of her younger rivals, such as Azarenka and Kleybanova. 

***

After diagnosis, the next step is to propose a cure.  We think that Ivanovic has two main avenues open to her, either of which might not return her to Slam glory but would assure her a rewarding career at the WTA level.  Following the Stosur model, she could channel her energies towards maximizing her serve in versatility and consistency as well as power, while simultaneously improving her net skills and forward movement.  Or, emulating the Dementieva paradigm, she could focus on developing a powerful backhand that would complement her forehand, while simultaneously improving her lateral movement behind the baseline.  Rather than stubbornly attempting to win with the same weary formula, though, Ivanovic must rationally decide which new course she would prefer to pursue.  If she dedicates herself to the challenge (probable) and gradually reacquires her confidence (uncertain), there’s no reason why she can’t thrill her legions of international fans with renewed triumphs.

[picapp align=”none” wrap=”false” link=”term=ivanovic+2008+roland+garros&iid=882277″ src=”http://view4.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/882277/french-open-roland-garros/french-open-roland-garros.jpg?size=500&imageId=882277&#8243; width=”388″ height=”594″ /]