Sunday, July 18, 2010

Why Playing Qualies is a Good Idea for Ana Ivanovic

Her celebrity hasn't suffered, but Ana's ranking continues to sink. What can the former No. 1 do to get back on track?
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.


  1. I agree, I think it's exactly what she needs. It may not seem fair, but, c'est la vie.

    If she really cares enough about the game, she'll battle through into the main draw.

  2. While I still believe Ana should have been given a wild card due to her title in Montreal back in 2006, I agree with most of what you said. In fact, I have been calling on Ana for months now to start playing more smaller events. I believe it's her only way out of this slump. So maybe this will work out for her in the long run. We can only hope. :)

    P.S. Ana's last title was Linz in October 2008.

  3. OOPS - THANKS Curtis, for your comments and intell!

  4. Great write up on the travails of Ana. I agree that Ana needs to find some confidence that no amount of fist pumping can provide. It's probably too late this year, but Ana should also consider World Team Tennis as a way to gain some confidence. Ana's problems, unlike poor Dinara Safina, are mostly mental and not physical like the Russian so at the end of the day it's up to her to figure out her game before it's too late.

  5. Hopefully, playing in the qualifying rounds is what Ana needs to get back on top form. There are only two sides of this story: it might or might not a wake-up call for her. If this call will not work for Ana, I am somehow preparing to see her name in number 103 by the end of 2010 (still a big fan though).

  6. Ana's ranking cannot get lower than around #70 at least for the end of the year. And since she doesn't care about her ranking from what she's seeing, I don't think it can make her a slap in the face to see #100 after her name.

    Of course I agree when saying she must play more, but she didn't do it the two previous years, I don't see why she would now. It really fucks me up since I'm one of her "hardcore" fans we'll say, but well, c'est la vie, as you say.

    However I don't think doing the same things than Kanepi and Agassi did will automatically help her. That would be probably the best choice, but I don't know. Btw, as a GS champion, having to play qualifies is quite strange, but well, some will think there's only that way to start climb back. And others, and maybe her, will think that if she loses to players trying to qualify, that all is over.

    We'll see.

  7. Yes, losing in qualies would sting, but deep down she knows she can play great tennis. I think that for her it's a matter of playing with joy rather than fear in her heart.

    But maybe it's just a question of time. Her semifinal appearance in Rome shows that she can still win matches.

  8. A question of luck and a question of how hungry Ana is. Ana's problems in tennis is 60% (mental) and only 40% (physical). Her serves, backhand and footwork might sometimes look off but that's something Heinz and Damian can fix. Ana is not as old as Venus or Serena so there's still HOPE.

    But the confidence and self-belief? It's all about Ana. If she remains to be perfectionist while playing tennis, she hurts herself even more. Perfection is boring and Ana is not boring, right?

  9. Well, it seems many of the blogs are offering the same information so I will present you with what I wrote for a couple of them. Since I am recovering from surgery. Ana still seems to want to try and derives great pleasure when she does win a match. Maybe having to qualify will be a good experience for her. Maybe it will motivate her, maybe it will just make her relax.
    I also agree with some of the other statements here. She should be playing some ITF events to get back her confidence. THere is no shame in that. Many a good player has had to go on the "minor league" tour to get back to basics. She originally had an injury after winning RG and went down from there. So like others before her who had injuries,and then often lack of confidence, she should feel ok about working the kinks out on the ITF circuit or at the International tournament level.

  10. Also, she has a hell of a forehand and that alone should make all of us want her to be back on track.

  11. Sunny: Hope you are feeling better!!!

  12. Thanks Chris-hopefully soon. Difficult to use computer too long.

  13. Nice post!

    I definitely agree that playing in the qualifying will get Ana back on track. She needs the confidence boost as soon as possible if she wants to be a threat at majors once again.

  14. Hiya, nice piece although I have to disagree with one thing. Her ball toss is the most glaringly obvious weakness in her game, not her confidence. Seriously, I don't even.

    Would you mind changing my link to just Any Given Surface? Ta muchly

  15. Sorry, Chris, but given the pushing of glamour by the WTA to get more money, I would rather you change your photo of Ivanovic. I understand your reasoning to some extent for putting it there but there is too much emphasis from the WTA regarding off-court glamour pursuits. Thanks

  16. I was thinking the same thing Sunny - not usually a "sex-sells" type of guy - forgive me for bad judgment. But I will say this: Ana is a good model and her S.I. work has been fun, both for her and for her fans. Remember, the WTA needs to sell tickets, and exposure from things like this definitely helps that cause. If they don't sell tickets, the Tour suffers and opportunities for the sport to grow are lost.


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