If you decided, after her surprisingly poor finish in 2009, to hold your breath and wait for Ana Ivanovic's return to relevancy on the WTA tour, you're turning blue as I write this. Actually, you probably turned blue when Ana got hammered and sickled by the Russians at Fed Cup—who knows if you still have a pulse anymore.
The 22-year-old Serbian's ineptitude of late has been well-documented, but as disheartening as Ivanovic's on-court struggles have been for her fans and for fans of tennis in general , there's still hope for her revival, and that hope came today in the form of a snub.
When the news came across the Twitterwire (thanks to Stephanie Myles of the Montreal Gazette) that the Rogers Cup in Montreal would not be offering Ana a wildcard (Ivanovic was the 2006 champion), I couldn't help but think that this could be the wake-up call that Ana so desperately needs.
It was Andre Agassi's visit to the challenger circuit in the mid-90's that springboarded his second run to the top of the sport, and maybe Ana needs to interrupt her jet-setting ways temporarily, in order to experience the same sort of humbling experience that Andre did.
And there are other notable examples of players pulling themselves up by the bootstraps. Former top-20 Estonian Kaia Kanepi was ranked No. 126 in early May, before winning two challengers back-to-back in France. A month and a half later, she's just finished following up a run to the Wimbledon quarterfinals with her first career tour title in Palermo, Italy.
Both Kanepi and Agassi, though with largely different temperaments and career paths, benefited from the same priceless experience: Winning.
A couple weeks without a loss would do wonders for Ivanovic, and, in her current state, there might only be one way to do that.
Ana, like Agassi and Kanepi did when they struggled mightily, would be well-served to play in a low-pressure environment where she can rack up some wins against lesser competition. Great players play instinctive tennis with an almost unconscious ease. But they only get to that level when their games are reinforced by consistent victory. It's all part of a process. A building that needs a foundation to survive.
Confidence—or lack thereof—is clearly the most glaring weakness in Ivanovic's game. Like any tennis player, she's nothing without that foundation. But how can she get it back if she keeps repeating the same pattern of losing in the early rounds of big events?
I, for one, don't think she can. At least not without a shock to her system of belief. Ivanovic needs a drastic change, and as her ranking slips dangerously close to the other side of 100, it should be clear to her and her coach Heinz Gunthardt that the sooner they can find Ana a title to take home (her last one was 2008 in Linz, Austria)—any title will do—the sooner she'll have a chance of regaining the stellar game that we once bore witness to.
Ivanovic needs to stop clinging to her past in order to start building a future. There's no shame in playing qualifiers or challengers, and if she's the fighter that we all want to believe she is, she'll respond to the challenge that the Montreal tournament director is issuing.
If she wants to play the main draw, she'll have to prove that she is good enough.
Maybe this is what she's needed all along.