Ana Ivanovic wears a heavy cloak of vulnerability every time she steps onto the court; an aura of breathless anxiety as tennis fans everywhere wish for the dark-haired beauty to find the game that has seemingly deserted her.
Early on in her career she was able to build on her game and climb the ladder of success. From 2007 through 2008 Ivanovic was regarded as one of the world’s best female tennis players.
She slowly worked her way up the ladder, continuing to improve since her debut in 2005 when she began her professional career in earnest. With her powerful serve and her equally powerful forehand, Ivanovic’s aggressive style of play was very successful.
After the Serb won the French Open in 2008, the year Justine Henin stepped away from the game, Ivanovic rose to the number one ranking. After reaching that magical summit, however, the bubble burst and Ivanovic watched as her soaring ranking began to sunk under the weight of heavy expectations.
Ivanovic frequently found herself in the eye of the media. Her fans espected her to improve her net play and her movement, but they also expected her to win, expressing disappointment when she lost.
The negative impact of losing caused Ivanovic to experience a lack confidence. She began to question her decisions on the court. As her ranking continued to plummet, the Serb began to panic during points, causing her to go for too much.
Her serve was the first element of her game to falter. This was largely a result of her increasingly erratic and unpredictable ball toss; a product of self-inflicted stress. She could not marshal her nerves and the result was a disaster in the making.
After winning the French Open in 2008, Ivanovic was dismissed by world ranked No. 133, Jie Zheng in the round of 32 at Wimbledon. She followed that loss with another upset at Montreal by No. 94 ranked Tamira Paszek, of Austria. When Ivanovic found herself out after the second round at the U.S. Open, losing to France’s Julie Coin ranked at 188, the Serb's self-doubt took a firmer hold.
Although Ivanovic enjoyed some small successes during the rest of 2008, she did not win another tour event. Her ranking fell to number five by the end of the year; by the end of 2009 her ranking had fallen to number 22. Ivanovic is now ranked number 63 in the world.
The Serb started 2010 by reaching the semifinals at Brisbane. Seeded number 20 at the Australian Open, Ivanovic fell to Gisela Dulko 6-7, 7-5, 6-4 after leading 3-1 in the second set. Her serve deserted her again.
She lost her opening match at the Paribas Open, and after four consecutive losses, Ivanovic fell out of the top 50 for the first time since March of 2005. Nothing, except winning a match now and then, would indicate any improvement until the tournament in Rome.
Ivanovic reached the semifinals in Rome, defeating Victoria Azarenka, Elena Dementieva, and Nadia Petrova—all top 20 players—in the process. Although Ivanovic lost to eventual champion Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez, the tournament result indicated vast improvements in her serve and in her state of mind.
At present, Ivanovic is working with Heinz Gunthardt, Steffi Graf’s former coach. According to her latest statements to the press, Ivanovic credits the new coach for her growing confidence and improved conditioning.
Since Rome, Ivanovic has not made huge inroads, but she is working hard to improve her confidence, her game, and ultimately her ranking. She took her first big step this week at the Bank of the West Classic in Stanford by winning her opening match against Alisa Kleybanova, who has defeated Ivanovic three out of the last four times they have met.
The two were tied at 3-3 in the first set when Ivanovic’s serve began to exert its power. The Serb went up 4-3, then broke the Russian’s serve and held her own to take the first set 6-3.
In the second set Ivanovic’s serve continued to improve and she managed to increase her first serve percentage to 77. Ivanovic dominated in the second set, at one point leading 5-1. The Serb closed it out, winning the match in an hour and fifteen minutes.
It was a superb victory for Ivanovic, who hopes for another win on Wednesday. She will face Frenchwoman Marion Bartoli. It should prove to be quite a test for Ivanovic since Bartoli won this event in 2009.
Ivanovic needs to increase her ranking into the top 50 to avoid being excluded from tournaments. Recently Ivanovic was denied a wild card into the tournament at Montreal. That means that in order to gain entrance, she must qualify for the event. Hopefully, she won't have to go that route.
Ivanovic is still only 22 years old, and she has all the tools necessary to win. Because she has won in the past, she has the ability to do so again so long as her confidence rebounds and she can rebuild her game with substantial wins against the top-ranked players.
Her fans yearn for her return to the top. They have been loyal and encouraging—begging the young lady from Serbia to find her way out of the maze of nerves and self-doubt that have kept her career in a downward spiral.
With her new coach and her new fitness trainer, Ivanovic sounds renewed and hopeful—frankly, excited to be playing tennis again for the pure joy of it.
Once she learns to neutralize the pressure and deal with the expectations, Ivanovic will surely find success once again.