Rough February ends with a tough draw in Dubai

It has been a rough few weeks for Ana since losing to Agnieszka Radwanska at the Australian Open. Since then, she has won only two of her last four matches, with her most recent loss coming once again to Radwanska in Doha this past Thursday. During this period, she suffered pain in her shoulder which forced her to withdraw from Fed Cup and caused her serving problems in her opening round loss to Ayumi Morita in Pattaya City. It hasn’t been an ideal February so far for Ivanovic, and she has one more tournament to get things straighten out before she arrives in Indian Wells, where she has semifinal points to defend from last year.

Next week won’t be any easier in Dubai. Ivanovic has drawn Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the opening round of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. If she can survive this first round encounter, Ana will likely find herself squaring off against Petra Kvitova in the second round. Kvitova is such an unpredictable player, who can be really bad one day and yet nearly unbeatable the next. Kvitova has struggled much in recent months, but nearly took out the new world #1 Serena Williams in Doha yesterday, losing a tight three set battle. Should Ivanovic and Kvitova meet, it would be a really intriguing match-up to say the least.

If Ana navigates herself through what will likely be two tough matches, she could once again find herself across the net from Agnieszka Radwanska in the quarterfinals. Ana just cannot avoid the Pole these days, drawing her in the same quarter for the third consecutive tournament in which the two competed in. It’s a bit reminiscent to 2010/2011 when Ivnaovic and Clijsters always seemed to find themselves in the same section of the draw. Ana has lost six consecutive matches to Radwanska dating back to 2009, though all their matches have been at least somewhat competitive. Serena Williams and Caroline Wozniacki are possible semifinal opponents. But who are we kidding? Chances are very slim Ana gets this far.

The tough draw should come to a surprise to no one. Dubai is only a 32 player draw in a premier event, so her draw was going to be difficult regardless. Though, it certainly could have been easier. Dubai will be a big test for Ivanovic, and if she wants to become a top 10 player again, she has to start winning these tough matches. It has been seen over and over again, but she as yet to do it. Ana has quarterfinal points to defend from last year, with semifinal points in Indian Wells on deck. Now is the time to step up.

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Pattaya Preview


Ana Ivanovic, Sorana Cirsta and Maria Kirilenko participate in the PTT Pattaya Open draw ceremony.

Ana returns to the court this week in Pattaya City as she begins what will be a busy four weeks ahead. This will be Ana’s second appearance at the PTT Pattaya Open, having lost to Roberta Vinci in the quarterfinals here just two years ago. In 2011 she was the #2 seed, this time, Ana will go in as the #1 seed. This marks the first time that Ana will be the top seed at any tournament since the 2009 Brisbane International. It has been quite a while. She’ll go in as the favorite, which I’m not entirely sure is a good thing or not. Here is the draw.

Ivanovic opens with Ayumi Morita, while either Chanelle Scheepers or Kimiko Date-Krumm would meet Ana in round two. Daniela Hantuchova is a possible quarterfinal opponent, while Sabine Lisicki could await in the semis. Number two seed Maria Kirilenko, along with Sorana Cirstea, Heather Watson and Elena Vesnina sit on the opposite side of the draw and can’t face Ana until the finals.

This is a tremendous opportunity for Ana to win a title early in the season, which can only help her feel better about her game going into the bigger tournaments that follow. I expect her to at least make the semis and hopefully go all the way, but as we have learned oh so many times in recent years, nothing is guaranteed with Ana, as she is prone to have off days against players one would figure she should have no problems beating. Remember when she nearly lost to Jill Craybas in round two here back in 2011? So let’s take this one match at a time.

Ana’s first match likely won’t be until Wednesday.

(pic source)

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Australian Open: My Final Thoughts

Another slam has come to an end with Ana bowing out in the fourth round. This time, it was a 6-2, 6-4 loss to Agnieszka Radwanska that sent Ana packing her bags out of Melbourne. Radwanska was her usual consistent self, while Ana was, well…inconsistent.

There’s no question that Ana has made progress at the slams over the past year or so. With this result, Ana has now reached the fourth round in five of her last six slams. Ana has played to her seeding, which was something she wasn’t doing in the previous couple of years. However, the problem persists, she can’t beat the top players on the big stage. Ana certainly had her chances against Radwanska. While she went through a pretty bad stretch during the first set in which her forehand went AWOL, she did play solid tennis in a competitive second set. What ultimately did Ana in was her inability to take advantage of the opportunities that she had created for herself. Ana finished the match 0-7 on break point chances. The ever so consistent Radwanska played the bigger points better, while Ana got tight in such moments. In the end, it was a disappointing, but not a surprising loss for Ivanovic.

Ana ultimately defended her points from last year, so all in all, it wasn’t a bad week. Still, the question remains, is she capable of making another deep run (semis+) at a slam? Ana’s inability to come through against the top players suggests the answer is no. At least for the time being. Unless her draw breaks her away, it feels as if the quarterfinals is her ceiling, and she has only made one of those since her French Open triumph in 2008. Ana has yet to take a set off a top 10 player in a slam since defeating Jelena Jankovic in the 2008 French Open semis. That obviously has to change if Ana wants to accomplish the goals that she has set for herself.

A key to beating the top players is regaining her lost power. Ben Rothenberg of the New York Times and No Challenges Remaining Podcast noted during the following during Ana’s match against Radwanska:


That just isn’t going to cut it against the top players when your game relies on a powerful serve and forehand. It was these weapons that got Ana to the top in 2007/2008, and if Ana is ever going to get back there again, or at least make herself a legit top ten player again, she needs to regain the power that she has lost over the past couple of years. While her movement has improved a bit with her leaner build, it has come at a cost. If we’re doing a cost/benefit analysis, the benefits do not outweigh the costs. Simply put, Ana will just get outhit by the big hitters on tour such as Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka. Ana did address the issue in her post-match presser on Sunday.

Q.  On your strength thing, your serve, is that part of it?  You don’t quite have the velocity you had earlier in your career.  Is it all about upper body strength?

ANA IVANOVIC:  Well, no, it’s just overall strength.  It’s lots of repetitions.  Tennis, it’s very physical, and you do hit a lot of forehands or serves, sort of high shots.  You need that strength to put behind the ball so you can generate more pace and power.

Serve, it’s also a lot of technique.  I still can serve pretty hard out there.  But, you know, it’s just something I really feel I need to work, and a little more explosivity also.

As I wrote in my season preview post, how well Ana improves her overall fitness throughout the course of this year will go a long way in determining how successful she is against the top ranked players. Until she gets the power back in her shots, I have a difficult time seeing her going much further in the slams. This isn’t the sole reason for Ana’s lack of success against the top seeds in the slams, but it is a significant one.

Ivanovic has a busy month ahead of her. In February, Ana will play four events; Fed Cup, Pattaya, Doha and Dubai. She will only have 190 ranking points to defend, so February will present an opportunity for Ana to improve her ranking, which currently sits at #13. As of right now, Ana will be the top seed in Pattaya. A title this early in the season would be welcoming. With 45o semifinal points to defend at Indian Wells in March, it will be important for Ana to build up enough points as possible in the upcoming weeks so her ranking doesn’t take too big of a hit should she lose early at the BNP Paribas Open.

Seeing how tough the current top four in the WTA is right now, and knowing the difficulties Ana has in beating them, it will be crucial for her put herself in a position to be a top 12 seed at the French Open and Wimbledon. Those two events are so far down the road that a lot can happen between now and then, but with Ana only one ranking spot from the top 12, her play over the next few months could have a big impact on her draw and chances in her next couple of slams. We already have seen the benefit of being a top 12 seed had on Ana’s draw at the US Open.

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Ivanovic Wins The Battle Of Serbia


For the second consecutive year, Ana Ivanovic has made it into the second week of the Australian Open. She is back into the fourth round after a 7-5, 6-3 victory over rival and compatriot Jelena Jankovic.

Ana got to this stage with wins over Melinda Czink and Yung-Jan Chan in the first two rounds. Ivanovic made it through her first round match against Czink with relative ease, however, her second round match against Yung-Jan Chan was anything but easy. Chan won more points overall in the match, while Ana hit into 49 unforced errors. Ana struggled to find her form all match, with her backhand sending the ball everywhere but inside the lines. Despite all this, she ultimately prevailed in three sets. It was an ugly win, but a win nonetheless, and it set the stage for a third round showdown with Jelena Janovic.

Ivanvoic and Jankovic have quite a history with each other, both having once being #1 and #2 in the world respectively at the same time.  We all know about their rivalry and past relationship with each other, but this time things felt different. The two are on much friendlier terms now than they were a couple of years ago, and both are in a struggle to get themselves back to the tennis mountaintop. The two used to meet in the later rounds of tournaments, but here they were, facing of against each other in the third round of the 2013 Australian Open.

Despite having played each other ten times before, this was only their second ever meeting at a slam. The only other occurrence was when they met in the 2008 French Open semis, a match that would determine the new world #1. Of course, Ivanovic won that match in a three set thriller and she would go on to win her first and only grand slam title of her career just two days later. A lot has changed since then, and this time around, rather than fighting for a spot in the final or a slam, they were just trying to get into the second week of one.

In a topsy-turvy first set, Ana found herself with a 5-2 lead, serving for the set. After grabbing a 30-0 lead on her serve, suddenly things begin fell apart for Ivanovic. She would go on to lose the next 15 points and find herself leveled at 5-all with Jankovic. After Jankovic jumped ahead to a 40-0 lead on her own serve, Ana came back winning the next five points to break JJ, and once again, put herself in a position to serve things out. The third time was the charm and Ana took the opening set 7-5.

Ana’s game improved in the second set as she got the early break at 2-1. From there, she never looked back as she got her serving yips under control. Ana took the second set 6-3 to take the match in straight sets. With this victory, Ana now owns a 8-3 lifetime record over Jankovic.

Ana is now 17-5 at the slams under Nigel Sears and has made at least the 4th round in five of her last six majors. With a win this weekend, Ivanovic will make her second straight slam quarterfinal appearance, after having gone 17 consecutive slams without one.  In order to get there, she’ll have to beat world #4 Agnieszka Radwanska.

Radwanska will be coming into this match on a 12 match winning streak, having not dropped a single set all year. She already has two titles this season (Auckland and Sydney), and she’s looking for her first ever grand slam title. Ivanovic is 3-4 lifetime against the Pole, having lost their previous four meetings. This will be a very difficult task for Ana as Radwanska’s crafty game could give Ana a lot of fits. Ana will be a considerable underdog, but if she plays to her best ability, she will have a chance of pulling off the upset. I would definitely give Ana a better shot at advancing than if she had played Sharapova, Williams or Azarenka in this round. While those three would be able to hit Ana off the court, Radwanska can’t. However, Radwanska’s tennis is so skillful and crafty that it could easily throw Ana off her game, more so than a big hitter like Sharapova, Serena or Azarenka would. That being said, the other three have been so dominant so far this week, I would have a difficult time seeing Ana beating any of them. She at least has a chance against Radwanska, even though I would pick Radwanska to win in straight sets over Ana.

Ana is long overdue for a big win at a slam. The last time she defeated someone ranked inside the top 10 at a major was Jelena Jankovic in the 2008 French Open semis. Ana will have her opportunity this Sunday to end yet another slam drought. This is an enormous opportunity for Ana to get 2013 off to a momentous start. A win over Radwanska could set the tone for the next couple of months and the season.

(image via getty)

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Australian Open Draw Breakdown

2012 was a year of progress for Ana at the slams. She made the fourth round at both the Australian Open and Wimbledon, before finally ending her quarterfinal drought at the majors by making the round of eight in Flushing Meadows. Can she continue to make progress in 2013? That is the question every Ana fan is asking heading into the Australian Open. Ana will have her work cut out for her if she is to go a round farther this year and make her second consecutive slam quarterfinal. Here is the draw. My thoughts on it below.

Ana will begin her Aussie Open campaign against Melinda Czink. Ivanovic is 3-1 lifetime against the Hungarian, but lost their last meeting in Cincinnati back in 2009. On paper, this is a match Ana should get through without much problem, but Czink is a lefty, and Ana has a tendency to struggle against lefties. That being said, I would be surprise if Ana lost this one.

Five years ago, Ana Ivanovic and Daniela Hantuchova met in the Australian Open semifinals. Ivanovic came back from a 0-6, 0-2 deficit to win 0-6 6-3 6-4. Aside from Ana’s comeback victory, this match is also best remembered as “Squeakgate”. Squeaky shoes aside, it was one of Ana’s biggest wins of her career and her most memorable moment from down under. The two have met three times since then on three different surfaces. Ana has won two of their last three meetings at Fed Cup (clay) in 2011 and in Miami (hard court) last year, while losing the other in Birmingham (grass) back in 2011. This will be their first meeting at a slam since they met here five years ago. Hantuchova, who was once coached by Ana’s current mentor Nigel Sears, will be a tough out. Ivanovic is definitely the favorite here, but it won’t be easy. I think Ana gets through this match in three sets.

If Ana is able to get over her first two hurdles, she could meet a familiar foe in round three, her Serbian compatriot Jelena Jankovic. These two rivals once faced off in the later rounds of the bigger tournaments (i.e. the 2008 French Open), but times have changed and this time around we could see the two clash in the first week.  The rivalry is not what is used to be, and neither are the two players games. What would have been a top-billing match just a few years ago is not so much today. Still, it is always noteworthy whenever these two meet on the tennis court and it will be an interesting match-up should these two meet in the third round, for good or bad.

Rivalry aside, it’s a pretty good match-up for Ana. She’s 7-3 lifetime against Jankovic, winning their last meeting in Indian Wells two years ago. Jankovic has also really struggled with her form for much of the past two years. While Ana isn’t exactly what she was a few years ago, she hasn’t fallen off nearly as much as Jankovic has. You got to like Ana’s chances here if the two were to face off. Other possible third round opponents for Ana would be Johanna Larsson, who defeated Ivanovic in the first round of the 2011 French Open, or a qualifier.

Ivanovic’s Australian Open run came to an end in the fourth round a year ago with a 6-2, 7-6 loss to the the world #2 Petra Kvitova. Should Ana get back to this point this year, she will likely once again go up against another top seeded player, this time being world #4 Agnieszka Radwanska. Radwanska is off to a hot start in 2013, having won the tournament in Auckland and is currently in the finals in Sydney. Radwanska has also won her last four matches against Ivanovic, so this would certainly be a tough one for Ana to get. Given that the other three possible fourth round opponents Ana could have received were Victoria Azarenka, Serena Williams or Maria Sharapova, this is not the worst option. I think Ana has a chance, albeit a small one against Radwanska, whereas she wouldn’t have much of one against Azarenka or Williams. A win here would be just the kind of victory to get her 2013 season off on the right track, but I have a difficult time seeing it happening. You never know, though.

Beyond the fourth round, Ana could see Li Na or Sam Stosur in the quarters and then Maria Sharapova in the semis, but since I am not expecting Ana to get that far, there’s really no point in talking about it.

For me, a successful tournament would be defending her fourth round points from last year. Anything less than that would be an obvious disappointment. I think she does it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she was upset beforehand. Nothing surprises me anymore. Overall, I think it’s not such a bad draw and if Ana plays her game they way she is capable of, there’s no reason why she shouldn’t reach the midway point of the tournament. Unless Ana’s draw breaks in the way that it did during the US Open, don’t expect her to go any further in Melbourne than she did last year.

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Hopman Cup Final: Spain Defeats Serbia


Serbia’s quest to win the Hopman Cup title came to an end on Saturday as they were defeated by Spain in the finals. It wasn’t the result most people were expecting and that many of us were hoping for, but we did end up getting an exciting and drama packed final.

Novak Djokovic kicked things off with a 6-3, 7-5 victory over Fernando Verdasco. With Serbia up 1-0 and needing just one win to clinch the title, the stage was all Ana’s. A win over Anabel Medina Garrigues would make Serbia Hopman Cup champs for the first time ever. Ivanovic begin the day with a 3-1 lifetime record against the Spaniard, having won their last three meetings, the most recent occurring in the 2011 Bali finals. Ana’s form had been brilliant all week and she was expected by most to win this match without much problem. Things did not go according to plan, however.

It was just not Ana’s day. She played poorly from the get-go and was unable to find her form that easily got her through group play with relative ease. Ivanovic dropped the first set 6-4 and had to at one point call for a trainer, complaining of feeling ill. After taking a pill, Ana went back out on court and continued on. Ivanovic lead 5-2 in the second set only to see that lead evaporate. She did regroup, however, and won the second set in a tiebreak. With momentum now seemingly on Ana’s side, she was now just one set away from bringing home the diamonds. Anabel Medina Garrigues never relented, though, and she immediately ended any momentum Ana had gained from winning the second set tiebreak by breaking Ana to take a 3-0 lead in the 3rd set. Ana looked gassed and her legs looked heavy. With nothing much left in the tank, Ana lost the set and the match along with it 6-4, 6-7 (3-7), 6-2. With the tie all knotted up at 1-1, the Hopman Cup final would be decided in mixed doubles.

All week long, I, like many others, wanted to see Spain play Serbia in the finals so we could witness the awkwardness of Ana Ivanovic and Fernando Verdasco being on the same court at the same time. Be careful what you wish for. As fun as it might be to see Ana returning serves from her ex-boyfriend (it was anything but) and vice-versa, the Spaniards were the better overall doubles team. Garrigues has won 18 career doubles titles and her doubles skills showed throughout the match. Verdasco, who like Ana, can be unreliable on his serve, was lights out today in mixed doubles. Ana couldn’t do anything with his serve. She was aced on at least half of the serves she saw from him. Or at least it felt like it.

After dropping the first set in mixed doubles 6-4, Serbia looked poised to force the match into an all-decisive super-tiebreak. Leading 4-3 in the second set, the Serbs had three break points to go up 5-3, with Djokovic’s next service game to follow. Convert on one of these and they probably take the set. They couldn’t convert on any of them, and two games later, Serbia was broken on Ana’s serve which proved to be fatal. Verdasco would go onto close out the match on his serve to clinch the Hopman Cup title for Spain.

This was no doubt a disappointment, and a somewhat surprising result. Serbia begin the week as the favorites to win it all, and as soon as the US team was eliminated, they were perceived to be even a bigger favorite. As one of the television commentators who was calling the match joked, many were ready to engrave Serbia’s name onto the trophy before any of today’s matches started. In sports, the action on the court doesn’t always goes the way it was scripted.

Anybody who follows me on Twitter knows how much I love this pairing and how badly I wanted to see them win. They missed out of the finals in their first go around back in 2006, when Ana and Novak were still teenagers. Two years ago, after going 3-0 in group play, Serbia seemed destined to win the Hopman Cup, only having to withdraw on the eve of the final because of an abdominal injury Ana had suffered. I truly believed the third time would be the charm, and it looked that way early on.

Seeing Ana and Nole come up short was a bit heartbreaking, even though it was just an exhibition. We haven’t had many things to get overly excited about in the past few years, and with Ana not being a real contender at any major event, at least in the near future, this would have been a pretty nice consolation prize. So while many other fans will brush Hopman Cup off as just another exo, it means more to some than it does to others. All you have to do is see Anabel Medina Garrigues reaction after winning both her singles and doubles matches. It was that of pure joy. You don’t see that at any other exo, and it was a bit sad we weren’t able to see that from Ana and Novak this past weekend. For all the fun and giggles the two shared together, you just know they really wanted to finally win this title.

With all that being said, give credit where credit is due. Anabel Medina Garrigues played wonderful tennis all week and especially today, and she was the major reason why Spain is Hopman Cup champions.

Let’s not allow this one loss to ruin what was a very fun and enjoyable first week of the year. I enjoyed every minute of it. There were plenty of highlights from this past week that were absolute treasures, none more than Novak dragging Ana onto the court to dance to ‘Gangnam Style’. If you haven’t seen it yet, please do yourself a favor and check it out. The entire mixed doubles match from Friday night is must see. It had everything from Novak imitating Ana, Nole and Ana switching roles with the ball kids, Gangnam Style and much more.

The hope is that Ana and Nole will return again next year and finally win the title that they have long been chasing.

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Hopman Cup: Take II


For many, Serbia making the finals was a foregone conclusion.  They were heavily favored to come out of their group, and not many gave Australia much of a chance against the popular Serbian duo of Novak Djokovic and Ana Ivanovic. The crowd in the new Perth Arena was jam-packed, with not a seat to be had. With the boisterous hometown crowd behind him, Bernard Tomic surprised everybody by taking down the world #1 Novak Djokovic in straight sets to give the hometown team the early 1-0 lead. Now down 0-1, Serbia had to not only win Ana’s singles match, but also win in mixed doubles.

With Serbia in a hole, it was up to Ana to dig themselves out of it. She took on the talented, up and coming 16 year old, Ashleigh Barty.  While Barty did show some flashes of her potential, Ana showed the fans her serve is still capable of being a weapon. She hit eight aces through her first four service games, including three in a row at one point. Ana took control of the match at 2-2 by taking the next four games from there, winning the opening set 6-2. Serving up 5-1 in the second set, Ana was broken for the first time in the match, as was the case on Monday against Francesca Schiavone. She was able to close things out in her second attempt, taking the match 6-2, 6-3 to even up the tie with Australia at 1-1.

In the end, it all came down to mixed doubles, a match that would not only determine the winner of the tie, but would give the winning team control of their own destiny in regards to winning the group. It was a crucial match to say the least. It was also highly entertaining and filled with drama. Serbia took a tightly contested first set 6-4. In the second set, they found themselves with match point on four different occasions, but were unable to close the deal. One of those match points, starting at the 1:03:00 minute mark in the video below, was one of the more amazing match points you will ever see. The rally lasted 28 shots, ending with a Tomic forehand winner. If you haven’t seen it yet, you must check it out, along with the rest of the match. The Aussies would go on to take the second set in a tiebreak to force a super tiebreak to decide it all.

The super tiebreak was very tense and close until Serbia pulled away at the very end. Up 7-6 and on serve, the Serbs got two mini-breaks off of Barty’s serve and then with Ana serving, closed it out, taking the match 6-4, 6-7 (8-10), 10-6 and the tie along with it.

The ladies in this match outclassed the men. While Novak made questionable errors throughout the match, Ana was stellar, particularly at the net with her volleying. Despite playing some magnificent tennis in his upset defeat over Novak Djokovic in singles, Tomic was outshined by his partner Ashleigh Barty in doubles.


Serbia’s next opponent will be Germany on Friday night. Play begins at 5:45 PM local time, 4:45 AM EST. Djokovic will get things started in singles as he faces Tommy Haas, while Ana will follow, taking on Tatjana Malek, who’s replacing an injured Andrea Petkovic. With Serbia’s victory over Australia on Wednesday, they now control their own destiny. Beat Germany, and they’re in the finals. However, a loss and an Australian win over Italy would put the Aussies in the final. Serbia should have no problem getting through, though.

Should Serbia advance, they would get Spain in the finals. John Isner’s withdrawl today due to an knee injury, forced the US team to forfeit their tie against the Spanish team of Fernando Verdasco and Anabel Medina Garrigues. Should the Hopman Cup final come down to mixed doubles, we will get the opportunity to see Ana and Fernando Verdasco go head to head against each other. Talk about awkward.

(Image via Getty)

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