Ana Ivanovic: Slowly Getting Back on Track

Luke BroadbentCorrespondent IMay 28, 2010

PARIS - MAY 27:  Ana Ivanovic of Serbia shows her frustration during the women's singles second round match between Alisa Kleybanova of Russia and Ana Ivanovic of Serbia on day five of the French Open at Roland Garros on May 27, 2010 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Julian Finney/Getty Images

The 2008 French Open saw Ana Ivanovic reach the pinnacle of the women’s game. The young Serb had won her first major title and risen to the World No. 1 ranking. Having previously failed in two major finals, she had cast off the tag of being a "choker" and it seemed as though everything was falling into place. She was destined to win more major titles.

The big problem, however, is that once you reach the top, often, the only way is down. In the two years since her finest triumph, Ivanovic has certainly learned this lesson.

As soon as she had reached the top her game, her mind began to disintegrate. She departed from Wimbledon that year in the third round and it wouldn’t be until March 2009 when she would reach the final of a premier event, although she was the runner-up in Linz in October 2008.

In defense of her French Open title she stumbled to a fourth round defeat to Victoria Azarenka, who was World No. 9, only one place below Ivanovic. Clearly, she hadn’t been disgraced.

On the face of it, just glancing at her results since her French Open victory, there would’ve only been a slight cause for concern. She was still ranked inside the top 10 and she was by no means being embarrassed on the scoreboard.

If you saw her matches, however, it was clear that something was wrong. We had previously seen glimpses into her lack of confidence, most notably in the 2007 French Open final when her ball toss was somewhat erratic.

Ivanovic later said, in her own refreshingly honest way, that she had been overwhelmed by the occasion and was crippled by nerves and despite going on to win there a year later, her nerves would continue to reappear.

At any moment she appeared to be on the precipice of a complete collapse. The wayward ball toss when serving would become an all too common occurrence as her confidence depleted by the day. Numerous injuries also didn’t help her cause.

She was winning matches, but not because of skill. She was winning because of her determination and fighting spirit.

Ivanovic’s poor run of form continued throughout 2009 and by the end of the year was the World No. 21. It was the first time she had been ranked outside the top 20 since July 2005.

2010 got off to a good start for Ivanovic, reaching the semifinals in Brisbane before losing to Justine Henin. The early promise of a new year soon evaporated and Ivanovic, once again, was exiting tournaments within in the first couple of days.

The North American hard court season saw her unveil her new coach, Heinz Günthardt, who coached Steffi Graf. While the arrangement at the time was only temporary, it has since become a more permanent one. She has even stated that she hopes "it’s going to work out in the long run."

Perhaps that may be a change in her psyche, but whilst she struggles on the court the sword can’t be too far above Günthardt’s head. After all, she has received help on the coaching front from Craig Kardon, Sven Groenefeld, and Darren Cahill since her demise began.

Günthardt has stated that he thinks coaching Ivanovic will be a big challenge, but it's a challenge he clearly relishes since he claimed some time ago that he wouldn’t coach anyone again. The good news for Günthardt is that the great player Ivanovic was is still inside her somewhere.

When at the top of her game she has one of the most formidable serves in women’s tennis. In fact, she still sits in fifth place for the fastest serve ever recorded on the WTA Tour at 124.9 mph.

She also possesses a visually pleasant, fluid forehand which is capable of pinning down any opponent. None of this has disappeared, it’s just been temporarily lost. Günthardt just needs to make Ivanovic believe again.

By the time the European clay court season had arrived, Ivanovic had fallen outside of the top 50. Nevertheless, that didn’t stop her from reaching the semifinals in Rome. En route to the semis she defeated Victoria Azarenka, Elena Dementieva, and Nadia Petrova. All of whom are ranked inside the Top 20.

Ivanovic was eventually ousted by Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez, who went onto win the tournament. Ivanovic was quick to give a lot of the credit for her performance to her new coach, who had advised her to "swing freely" and "have fun."

Ivanovic came back down to earth with a bump in Madrid courtesy of a second round defeat to her compatriot, Jelena Jankovic.

In Paris she lost in the second round to the No. 28 seed Alisa Kleybanova, who led their head-to-head 2-1 prior to the meeting. In the first set Ivanovic teased spectators by recapturing a little of her best form, even if it was only for fleeting moments.

Her serving was solid, whilst her forehand was somewhere near it’s best. Her footwork, which is usually a pitfall, even looked good, before she was blown of the court in the second set 6-0.

After the match Ivanovic said that she thought she played well, but Kleybanova just played better. She also said, "Sport doesn’t build character, it shows it." If that’s the case she is showing a lot at the moment.

Going into Roland Garros she was World No. 41, so she is going in the right direction and with more performances like those of late she will be back in the top 32 in hardly any time. And who knows, maybe even the top 20 by the end of the year. The road she is travelling is undoubtedly a long one, but with her heart and Günthardt by her side it’s a road the 22-year-old can travel.

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