Ana Ivanovic and Dinara Safina have posed, for women's tennis, as the couplet of failure for the last three years. Indian Wells, however, has been blessed thus far in 2011, in that it has witnessed some sort of resurgence. Some sort of resurgence. Safina and Ivanovic, at this point in writing, have of course both been bounced out of the tournament by Maria Sharapova and Marion Bartoli respectively, players with no humble credentials themselves.
The most surprising thing about the stories of Ivanovic and Safina has certainly been the depths to which they have had to stoop in this process of career-realisation. Mind you, it was pretty hard to imagine anything going wrong with their upwards-trendy careers back in 2008—Ivanovic won the French after a year or so of movement towards the top, while Safina, the defeated finalist, hoped for great things herself.
Indeed, the Russian proved so for the next few months, and played the role currently held by Wozniacki, being a world number one without a slam title. Safina's chances were there, nonetheless, at the Australian Open and French Open finals in 2009. On both occasions she proved woefully out of her depth. Since then, Safina has failed to reach anything near the second week of a grand slam, yet alone maintain her name in the top 10.
Ivanovic, however, began to unravel quite quickly after her French Open title, and since winning her maiden major has been unable to reach the last eight of a grand slam. Indeed her swift success at the highest levels seems to have been costly—scarcely has she imposed her dominating game on any match since. Why Safina and Ivanovic, not to mention some of the other WTA women, fell so quickly is still something of a mystery.
Success, for some people, unleashes the pressure of expectation, and releases the floodgates, as it were. For the Russian and Serb, however, the pressures of expectation have proven too much.
It was nice, then, to see some sort of a revival at the Indian Wells tennis garden this week. Their performances were not classic comebacks—Ivanovic has lost, of course, which evidently ends any chance of seeing her lift the trophy. Neither is this the first moment in a long while that both have demonstrated something of their former selves. Their runs, nonetheless, are significant in their career development.
It is the first time Safina has won any string of matches in a long while, ending a series of consecutive losses. While this may seem elementary, every return is made with small steps. Safina's problems have been almost entirely psychological, and every bit of that winning feeling adds to the reserves of confidence she needs to build up.
For Ivanovic, on the other hand, we are seeing perhaps a glimmer of her former dominant self. Her victory over Jankovic, especially, is one of the first few times in the last few years she has earned a win over a top player. Jankovic used to be one of her rivals for the number one spot in 2008, and defeating her surely must have injected some confidence into her game.
At any rate, Safina and Ivanovic still have a way to go, but we have seen in their runs at Indian Wells this year something fundamental to tennis—confidence comes in winning.