Tennis Australia: December Isuue
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Ana Ivanovic Pictures Thread vol.2
Back to her Best
After a baffling two years in which she struggled to string consecutive wins together, former world No. 1 Ana Ivanovic looks set to return to top form in time for the Australian summer. By Barry Wood
She’s back, and it’s great to see. Ana Ivanovic, who ranks alongside Kim Clijsters as the most popular player on the WTA tour, has, it seems, put more than two years of a baffling mediocrity behind her and she is once again notching up the victories.
She ended this season by winning 10 of her last 11 matches, claiming titles in Linz and Bali – an impressive turnaround by a player who, two years after winning the French Open and ascending to world No. 1, had seen her ranking sink to 65. She was, it seemed, going nowhere.
There were the occasional decent tournaments, such as Brisbane, Rome and Cincinnati this year where she reached the semi-finals, but there were far more events where her results were disappointing.
Her decline was particularly painful to witness, because she is universally liked for her always-present smile and the same down-to-earth personality she had when she announced her arrival as a 16 year old back in 2004. It was then that, ranked 156, she qualified in Zurich and upset world No. 29 Tatiana Golovin by fighting back from 1-5 in the final set, saving match points, and then stretched Venus Williams by holding five set points in the opening set and three in the second before conceding in two tiebreaks. Eyebrows were raised and a star was born.
With her model girl looks, as well as spectacular on-court talent, she went on to become one of the pin-ups of the game, and with her 2008 victory at Roland Garros the world was at her feet. But then, unexpectedly, the results stopped coming. At the US Open that year she lost to an opponent ranked 188, and although she won Linz a few weeks later she suffered an increasing number of early defeats. The worst moment, she says, came at the 2009 US Open when she fell to Kateryna Bondarenko.
“It was the first time I had lost in the first round of a Grand Slam, and also I had a match point,” she said. “In my career, usually I was the one saving match points and going on to win. It was a very unpleasant experience, not using my opportunity. It took me a while to get over that one.”
So what had gone wrong?
“I got to number one and I thought, ‘This is great and I have to play even better to improve’, and I started changing my technique and the way I was working,” she said. “Obviously I was doing something right (to win Roland Garros and get to world No. 1) but I felt I could still improve. I got very motivated and excited and wanted to get better and improve those few little things. I thought I could get my volleys a little bit better, my serve more powerful, and you get consumed by that and I got carried away a little bit.
“It wasn’t good because I had a certain rhythm and I lost that, and then a few injuries crept in and then you lose matches you expect to win. That was hard and I took it very personally and was very hard on myself and brought myself down.”
She got to the stage where she was unable to put back-to-back wins together at many of the tournaments she played, at eight events in 2009 and an embarrassing 13 in 2010. Despite being a former champion at the Canadian Open, she was turned back when she requested a wildcard.
Things were grim. But a spark was lit in Beijing in October, when Ivanovic defeated Elena Dementieva to reach the quarter-finals. She lost then to Caroline Wozniacki, a win that took the Dane to world No. 1, but she was thrilled with the way her week had gone.
Keen to maintain her momentum, when the call came from Linz for her to replace the injured Serena Williams she was happy to step in, and even happier at week’s end to claim her first title since winning there two years before. Understandably weary after playing four straight weeks she then lost in the Luxembourg quarter-finals, but she closed out the year with some brilliant performances in Bali that earned her another title.
Many had given her up after two years of indifferent results, but she could hardly have played any better in the past few weeks and she is clearly a force once more. While others doubted, did she think she could get her game back again?
“I did have doubts,” she admits, “because even though I have a lot of belief in myself you need to prove it to yourself on the court. During the toughest moments my team always believed in me and that was important. They believed in me maybe even more than I believed in myself. They didn’t have any doubts, and that gave me confidence.
“I’m still not there yet. It is a gradual process and I need to achieve a lot more consistency to get back to the top, but having more wins under your belt helps build your confidence. It’s a long process and at one point I wasn’t really aware of that. I wanted to have results and get back to the top straight away, but sometimes it takes longer than you anticipate. It was a big thing for me to realise it takes time and you have to be patient.
“But now I feel very confident about my game and my fitness. I feel my game is getting close to where it used to be and I’m even more aggressive, and experience-wise. I’m much more mature and a more complete player now.”