The 2011 WTA season is in the books, and now it’s time to look back on what was a up and down, and somewhat disappointing season for Ana.
A year ago, Ana was coming off a great summer/fall campaign in which she made the the semi-finals in Cincinnati, 4th round at the US Open, quarterfinals in Beijing and titles in both Linz and Bali. Her ranking skyrocketed from a lowly 65 in late July to a season end ranking of 17. Her game showed great improvements under then coach Heinz Gunthardt and everything was looking up for Ana heading into the 2011 season. However, things didn’t go exactly to plan.
Ana and Heinz split, despite the success they had together due to the fact that Heinz wasn’t willing to travel with Ana full time for an entire season. This left her without a coach for much of the off-season. She finally hired Antonio Van Grichen in mid December of last year.
Ana came into the year with high hopes and big expectations after her good run of tennis in the final three months of the 2010 season. Many, myself included, thought that she had finally gotten out of her prolonged slump and would play a major role for the WTA in the 2011 season. Top 10 seemed like a strong possibility and playing in the 2nd week of majors was going to become a norm again. However, the season did not go that way.
Ana started the year in Perth, where she participated in the Hopman Cup with fellow Serb and childhood friend Novak Djokovic. The duo had great success together, but unfortunately was forced to pull out of the final after Ana had suffered an abdominal injury. This same injury forced Ana to withdraw from Sydney and severely hampered her preparation for the Australian Open. In Melbourne, she exited in the 1st round in a heartbreaking loss to Ekaterina Makarova, in which she lost in the 3rd set 10-8, after saving several match points. The disappointment carried on into February with a 1st round loss to Patty Schnyder in Dubai and then re-aggravated her abdominal injury which forced her to withdraw from Doha. Two months into the season, everything was looking down instead of up.
Ana dumped Antonio Van Grichen as coach and then returned to the Adidas Players Development Program where she worked under the guidance of Darren Cahill. She started to show improvements in her results at Indians Wells, where she was a former champion and runner up. She reached the quarterfinals after defeating Serbian rival Jelena Jankovic in the 4th round, in what was one of Ana’s better performances of the year. However, despite her draw opening up, she lost to Marion Bartoli in the quarterfinals, not playing anywhere close to her best tennis. She then moved onto Miami, where once again looked primed to reach the quarterfinals. In the 4th round against Kim Clijsters, Ana held a 5-1 lead in the 3rd set and got to 0-40 on Kim’s serve. Despite having 5 match points in total, Ana was unable to close the deal and lost in quite possibly the most heart breaking fashion of her entire career. As a die-hard Ana fan, that match took several days to get over. I felt like that match really hurt her confidence heading into the clay season. A win here, would had been huge.
The clay season turned out to be something to forget. In May, Ana recorded a first round loss in Madrid to Bethanie Mattek-Sands, a 2nd round loss to Yanina Wickmayer in Rome and then another heartbreaking 1st round loss to Johanna Larsson at the French Open. Clay, which had been Ana’s best surface in the past, and Roland Garros, home to many great memories including her first and only major win back in 2008, became a nightmare for Ana in 2011.
Grass was a little bit better experience for Ana. She reached the semi’s in Birmingham, before losing to Daniela Hantuchova. She scored a victory over Julia Goerges in the 1st round in Eastbourne, before going out to Venus Williams in the following round. At Wimbledon, Ana breazed through the first two rounds before falling to Petra Cetkovska. Still, it was another disappointing performance at a major for Ana, and her season thus was a disappointment as well. She needed a change, and she went out and hired Nigel Sears away from the LTA and rehired former fitness trainer Scott Byrnes.
After a 1st round exit to Ayumi Morita in Stanford, Ana got revenge the following week in San Diego where she had a great run to the semi-finals, after defeating Shuai Peng in the quarters. She eventually lost to Vera Zvonareva, but played fabulous tennis in the process, taking the 1st set. She showed in only her 2nd tournament with Nigel as her coach, flashes of brilliance which gave her fans hope heading into the 2nd portion of the season. She wasn’t able to sustain it though in Toronto and Cincinnati where she exited both early.
At this point, Ana was entering the part of the year where she had tons of points to defend. Given her erratic play, it seemed as if it was almost a foregone conclusion that she would suffer some sort on ranking drop between the US Open and the end of the season. She first had to defend her 4th round points at the US Open, which she did after a first round win over Ksenia pervak, a 2nd round walkover and a 3rd round win over American Sloane Stephens in what was Ana’s first match on Arthur Ashe at night in her career. She went on to lose to Serena Williams in the 4th round, despite playing well and making the match far more competitive than any one had expected. All in all, she defended her 4th round points, which at that point, was all one could ask for.
Ana then proceeded into the fall season where she captured a couple of victories in Tokyo, then reaching the quarterfinals in Beijing defeating the likes of Kuznetsova and Zvonareva on the way, playing some of her best tennis of the season. Ana was forced to withdraw from the quarterfinals against Agnieszka Radwanska due to a lower back injury. However, she once again successfully defended her points. Despite being treated for a bad back, Ana decided to play Luxembourg anyways after getting approval from her doctors. Her stay there didn’t last long, going out to Anne Keothavong, a former pupil of Nigel Sears.
Ana’s season came down to one final tournament; Bali. Here, she defeated Roberta Vinci, Nadia Petrova and Anabel Medina Garrigues on her way to her 2nd stright title in Indonesia. She looked like Ana of 2007/2008 with some vintage forehand winners and all around good play. Thus Ana ended what was a disappointing season on a high note, giving us fans hope for 2012. She was able to defend most of her points and finish the season ranked #22 in the WTA rankings. Pretty remarkable given the amount of points she had to defend and how she played through the first 7 months of the year.
Like last year, Ana ended 2011 well, showing signs of what could be a revival. Unlike last year, Ana has a stable team around her with Nigel Sears and Scott Byrnes at her side and there will be no uncertainty this off-season like there was last year. This doesn’t guarantee success in 2012, but it sure does help. Can Ana continue to build on the success she has under Nigel during the 2nd half of the season? Will Ana make it back to the top 10 and contender for bigger and better titles? Those are questions that have yet to be answered, but it’s something we’ll be looking out for next season. Hopefully, Ana will return to the elite in 2012.