Six years ago everything was going all so smoothly for Ana Ivanovic. Having amassed legions of fans in her few years on the circuit, the Serb with the million dollar smile seemed set to become the new face of the WTA Tour.
After winning the 2008 French Open, Ivanovic ascended to the top of the world rankings and her subsequent downfall has been one of the most dramatic falls from grace in the past decade.
Within months Ivanovic went from being a sure-fire bet as a serial slam winner to a player struggling to hold down a place in the top ten. She’s never really been a contender since – dogged by nerves, her well documented serving yips and inconsistency.
However, while it would still take a very brave man to bet on Ivanovic adding to her Grand Slam tally, over the past eighteen months there’s been signs of a resurgence.
She knocked Serena Williams out of the Australian Open before losing to teenage wunderkind Eugenie Bouchard in the quarters and in Stuttgart last week, she powered past Jelena Jankovic and Svetlana Kuznetsova to make Sunday’s final where she had Maria Sharapova on the ropes for a set and a half.
“Ana’s had a really great year so far and she’s been playing really good tennis,” Sharapova said afterwards.
“She’s won a couple of titles already and a lot of her success has come on clay. She knows how to play on it and Stuttgart’s a quicker court which she prefers as well so I expected her after a pretty convincing win against Jankovic, I expected her to come out and play well.”
Ivanovic has never quite had the killer instinct of a Sharapova or a Williams when it comes to the big matches and she was guilty of not killing off the contest when she had the chance midway through the second set.
Sharapova spotted the tell-tale signs of self-doubt and dragged herself back into the match with some explosive hitting.
“I felt like I had a lot of opportunities in the second set,” Ivanovic said afterwards.
“She’s a really great player so she raised her level and she came up with some amazing shots which I could do nothing about. And then in the third set I really felt that the momentum was on her side and I could not get her out of her rhythm and she was striking the ball really well.
She stepped up and was really aggressive which is what you have to expect from her in a final.”
Ivanovic has long been determined that she still has the game to do some serious damage at the big tournaments and with her ranking now up to No.12, she’s on the verge of getting back into the top ten.
“It’s been a lot of good wins for me and it was a lot of back to back matches and I felt physically fine which is great,” she said.
“I felt like I had the match on my racket so it hurts but it’s something you learn from and there’s always next time!”
She’s always been comfortable on the clay where the high bounce makes it harder for players to expose her limited agility and the ball often lands nicely in her strike zone.
“I grew up on the clay,” she said.
“In Serbia that’s basically all we had besides playing indoors during the winter time. But in the summer we played all the time on clay so I do love it and my best results and biggest successes have come at the French Open.
It’s always good to be back on this surface.”
So what’s sparked the revival for Ivanovic in 2014?
“I think it’s just consistency and that’s something that I worked on in the past and also other areas of my game have improved so that kind of shows on the court,” she said.
“It’s been my goal for a while to get consistency back and start winning more against the top players. That’s given me confidence and more of an incentive to get back to where I feel my game belongs. It’s just a matter of showing that on the court.
Sometimes I lack confidence or I feel my fitness isn’t quite there so it’s just a matter of these things coming together but I really do feel it’s there now so it’s just a matter of showing it.”
Sharapova has been one of the most dominant players on the clay-court circuit in recent years and after winning her third Stuttgart title, she showed that she’s starting to putting the indifferent form of the opening months of the season behind her.
“I enjoy this part of the year and I enjoy the transition to the clay and also the grass,” she said.
“This is also great physical preparation. I had really tough matches here and I had to pull through them and in terms of being in shape, I’ve done a really good job of recovering from tough matches and that’s really key for me as I wasn’t able to do that at the beginning of the year after not playing for a few months.” IF YOU'D LIKE TO READ MORE ABOUT ANA IVANOVIC, GO HERE