TOP Seeded Ana Ivanovic suffered a shocking loss in the 2nd round of the US Opens. She was upset by 188th-ranked Julie Coin in three sets - 6-3, 4-6, 6-3.
Her loss paved the way for Jelena Jankovic to reclaim the world no.1 ranking...that's if she do not suffer an early loss just like her Serbian counterpart.
In retrospect, Ivanovic's loss was perhaps not that shocking after all...
Volatility Of Womens' ATP Ranking
Tennis womens' ranking has never been more volatile after the retirement of Justine Henin. Ever since the Belgian ace retired, three young and attractive upstarts - two Serbians and one Russian, have been slugging out at the top - Jelena Jankovic, Ana Ivanovic and Maria Sharapova. With Sharapova sidelined after her injury, it was only a matter of time before Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic slugged it out at the top.
Womens' World No.1 ATP ranking have changed 4 times since May! And 1 More change is on the way...
Justine Henin had been the womens' top ranked player since Nov. 13, 2006, except for a brief seven-week period in 2007 when Sharapova held the top spot.
Even since Henin's retirement in May 2008, the womens' world no.1 ranking have swapped places four times, first by Maria Sharapova, then Ana Ivanovic, then Jelena Jankovic, before Ivanovic took it back again. Now Jankovic looks set to regain the initiative!
Not since 2001 have we witnessed such volatility. From October 2001, after Martina Hingis' "retirement" (she made a brief comeback in 2006) to July 2002, the world no.1 ranking swapped places a total of eight times.
Handling the Pressure
Athletes often cite injuries as the cause for defeat and loss of form, and i agree that injuries can be very disruptive to one's sporting career.
Yet it appears increasingly clear to me that Jankovic and Ivanovic simply couldn't handle the pressure of being at the top.
Both Jankovic and Ivanovic are powerful baseline players and on their days, they are invincible and deserve their rankings.
At the top of the sporting world, only a thin line separates the skill levels of players. It is often the mental edge that differentiates the champions from the pretenders.
There is an interesting observation i made as i watched the matches by Ivanovic and Jankovic over the past few months.
- In the matches that Jankovic and Ivanovic played when they are world no.2, they played with far more determination and focus. Its almost as if they had a purpose to play for.
- Interestingly, in matches when they are world no.1, both of them often played with less confidence, lots more unforced errors, and often cited injuries as a cause for concern. As a result, they usually lose before the finals.
Playing with Purpose
I have to be fair and say that Ivanovic was more consistent than Jankovic, and my claim would be supported by the very brief one week stint that Jankovic had as world no.1.
It is interesting to see how players can play so well when they are playing catch up as compared to when they are at the top of the world.
Rafael Nadal is another example. He spent a record 160 weeks as world no.2 before dethroning Roger Federer. Although many would agree with me that Roger Federer is suffering from a temporary dip in form, playing catchup has made Nadal improve his game so much that he deserves his current world no.1 position.
NBA legend Michael Jordan and his Chicago Bulls were unceremoniously dumped out of the NBA playoffs for 3 straight years by the Detroit Pistons before he eventually won the first of his six championships.
Being world no.2 or being second or having tripped at the same hurdle every year gives you a purpose - that drive to overcome that hurdle in front of you.
That is often the only thing on the athlete's mind and they would become so fixated on it that they channel all their energies and focus to achieve it.
When you have a purpose to play for, you would be driven to improve, to excel, and to develop the mental edge that is required to be at the top.
And as a result, many often achieved their goals, as with Rafael Nadal, Michael Jordan and with Ivanovic and Jankovic.
There would be many athletes like Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods that went on to remain at the top of their game for extended periods of time.
Yet there are also many like Ivanovic and Jankovic, who falters almost almost as soon as they reached their goal.
Jankovic and Ivanovic are certainly capable of whipping up matches that will keep us glued to our seats, but in my opinion their mental strength is lacking once they are on top.
Perhaps in Ivanovic's and Jankovic's case, its still too soon to say they will remain that way for the rest of their career. However it is a fact there are athletes that simply cannot handle the pressure of being at the top. Jennifer Capriati is another example.