Women's Tennis: Why Ana Ivanovic Will Never Climb Back to the Top

Stephen ValentineContributor ISeptember 29, 2011

The issues for Serbian Ana Ivanovic continue through 2011.
The issues for Serbian Ana Ivanovic continue through 2011.Kiyoshi Ota/Getty Images

Beautiful, talented, and down to earth, Ana Ivanovic has all of the qualities that have earned her sponsorships and fans around the world, and because of this she is regarded as a WTA star.

Still, playing on stadium courts, she is considered a pretty reasonable scalp by many of her opponents.

She burst on to the scene in 2004, losing to Venus Williams in Zurich. In 2005 in Canberra, Ivanovic won the title as a qualifier and upsetting then No. 3 Amelie Mauresmo at Roland Garros in the third round en route to the quarterfinals. She then was on a steady upward trajectory before making another breakthrough performance at Roland Garros in 2007, reaching the finals before her big year in 2008, winning the title at Roland Garros and the finals of Australian Open (similar to Li Na this year).

Since that peak in Paris, however, she had a thumb injury and loss of confidence, losing in the third round at Wimbledon, and the second round at nearly every event she played between Wimbledon and the US Open (where she was upset by the very famous Julie Coin).

Since then, she's been shaky and stumbled down out of the top 50 in 2010 before climbing back into the top 20. But many of her fans have become disgruntled with this effort by Ivanovic, wondering why she can't make it back to the top of the game again.

Well, here are some reasons as to why she can't.

With a player that uses a very powerful, yet flat forehand and big serve, confidence is key. Confidence comes from winning, but the thing that makes it tougher for someone like this is that they can get hot and cold very easily.

Ana Ivanovic hasn't hit a tremendous purple patch since 2008, and while she's had some good runs, and reached the second week of a major several times between 2009-2011, she's also bottomed out at the big events even more often.

Take her clay season in 2011 this year. She flamed out in Rome and Madrid to the clay giants that were Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Yanina Wickmayer. Not only did she lose there, but she also lost the script at the scene of her biggest triumph at Roland Garros. Playing on Suzanne Lenglen against Johanna Larsson, she would lose a three set match where the last six points ended on mistake after mistake off of every shot.

She needs confidence badly at this point, evidenced here in Tokyo, where she struggled past talented teenager Laura Robson and then lost immediately to the first in-form player she met (Maria Kirilenko) in tame fashion.

The Ivanovic forehand has lost its potency since winning Roland Garros 2008. At Roland Garros in 2011, she lost first round.
The Ivanovic forehand has lost its potency since winning Roland Garros 2008. At Roland Garros in 2011, she lost first round.Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Ivanovic also has a tendency to blame outside sources for internal issues.

She clearly does not give her forehand a good crack anymore, and while it is still a very big weapon, she's letting the players catch up to a lot of forehands that, three years ago, would have been put into the corners without any chance of a return.

Instead of realizing that she's lost the fearlessness that took her to the top, she's insisting that she's not getting the right coaching around her, terminating relationships with coach after coach, whether they be Craig Kardon, Antonio Van Grichen, Heinz Gunthardt or even Sven Groeneveld, who had taken Ana to the top.

She's now got Nigel Sears in her corner, and while her U.S. Open fourth round and San Diego quarterfinal are great, she hasn't let that translate into a consistent period yet.

Ana Ivanovic also has a tendency to not address any of the internal issues period.

It's clear that she's mentally fragile, and at the slightest bit of pressure, her serve toss goes off the boil, by a couple of feet at times. And in 2011, a troubling pattern of letting leads slip has presented itself, as many of her losses (even on her best surface, clay) have materialized after having early leads. Also, there may be issues of having the sponsors that she's attracted because she IS beautiful and talented in the first place.

Ivanovic has lost a lot of weight, and while at first it looked good for her game, it's led to somewhat less powerful shots and less aggression and stamina. Ana has acknowledged that there is a lot of pressure on looking good in women's tennis when you've got sponsors. Fans have expressed concern on forums about Ivanovic's weight and how it has affected her game, but it seems as though she hasn't noticed any difference.

Ivanovic also said that she over-thinks her game and that she has tendencies to doubt her strategy. That's fine when one looks to correct the issue, but Ivanovic hasn't tried to make strides in this area.

These issues are looking to keep her away from the top permanently. Which is a shame because she won her Roland Garros title in a year where Maria Sharapova, Venus Williams, and Serena Williams won majors, and currently the field is looking a lot less strong than back in 2008.

Both Williams sisters are 30, Sharapova is only just finding consistency again, and Petra Kvitova, Li Na, and Sam Stosur don't look to be (for Kvitova, temporarily) handling the pressure of being a slam winner much better than Ana did in 2008.

At Indian Wells this year, Ana had the chance to springboard herself back into the top 10, but she lost that chance, and is now hovering around the lower half of the top 20, with points due to fall off of her ranking from Beijing, Linz, and Bali last year.

This may have been an opportunity permanently wasted for Ivanovic. Only time will tell.


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