Ana’s Amazing Week at Indian Wells

It’s been over a week since I last wrote here, and obviously a lot has happened since. I just never got around to writing a post, even though there has been plenty to write about. Then I got into superstition mode and became afraid I’d start jinxing things if I begin to talk. Yes, I know. I’m crazy. But now that Indian Wells is over and done with, I would be remiss if I didn’t share my thoughts on the amazing week that it was for Ana and her die-hard fans, last week at Indian Wells.

Coming into Indian Wells, I wasn’t sure what to expect. On one hand, while Ana did make the quarterfinals in Dubai, her form was a little shaky. Ana had issues with her serve, and played one mess of a match against Wozniacki in the Dubai quarters. On the other hand, Indian Wells has always been a place where Ana has excelled, even when she wasn’t playing at her best beforehand. I thought she got a favorable draw, and my optimism went up a tick. That being said, I would be lying if I told you I saw this run coming. After all, Ana had not reached a semifinal of a premier mandatory event since she did so at IW back in 2009. It had been three full years.

Ana begin the week by avenging her French Open loss to Johanna Larsson. It was a pretty straightforward match, but expected. Then came Monday night, and Ksenia Pervak. In what turned out to be a tighter than expected match, Ana found herself in a 1st set tiebreak and with a set point on her serve, up 7-6. But like so many times in the past couple years, Ana failed to convert and came up on the losing end of the breaker. Down a set, after having a set point, it felt as if Ana was on her way to another disappointing, early round defeat. But she fought, and fought, and fought some more, and righted the ship to storm back and win her first 3 set match in almost a year. While it may not have been her most impressive match from a quality standpoint, the way she fought back and came through what turned out to be quite a difficult match was impressive in of itself. Pervak played surprisingly well, retrieving many balls that looked to be Ivanovic winners. It was similar to Ana’s match against Wozniacki in Dubai, but she didn’t let it frustrate her this time. In many ways, one can build more confidence through a win like this, than with a quick, straightforward victory in two sets. The way Ana battled back is what made this win the most impressive win of the season, in my opinion. That was until the next night.

With rounds two and three behind her, Ana met Wozniacki in the 4th round. When the draw came out, this was the match many Ivanovic fans had circled. After letting Caro slip by with a win in Dubai, Ana was surely looking for revenge, just as she did when she faced Johanna Larsson a few days earlier. It was an ugly start, reminiscent of their match two weeks prior. Both players exchanged breaks in their first two service games. After a long 5th game on Ana’s serve, she finally held to take a 3-2 lead and then took her game to an whole other level. Ana dominated from there on out. She won the match 6-3, 6-2, playing as impressive level of tennis as she has played in quite some time. There were vintage Ivanvoic forehand winners, great play at the net, and even some backhand winners thrown in there as well. When Ana has her backhand working, you know things are going well. She had gotten the revenge she was looking for, and now had successfully defended her quarterfinals points from the year prior.

Next up, was Marion Bartoli in the quarters. This was a rematch of the quarterfinals from the previous year at Indian Wells, which Bartoli won 6-4, 7-6(4). Once again, Ana was looking for a revenge against an opponent who had beaten her the previous time they met. Ana continued her good form from the 4th round and continued to hit well, especially off her forehand wing. Bartoli was battling the Indian Wells flu that was going on, and wasn’t at her best. Nonetheless, it was another impressive performance on Ana’s part, and she notched her 2nd consecutive win against a top 10 player, the first time she had done so since Rome 2010.

Then came Friday night, and he much anticipated semifinal match between Ana Ivanovic and Maria Sharapova. It was the first meeting between the two since the 2008 Australian Open final, which Sharapova won 7-5, 6-3. That AO final was dubbed the “Glam Slam” final, for obvious reasons. At that time, both Ivanovic and Sharapova were seen as the future big rivalry of women’s tennis. It featured two very talented and marketable stars, with which could bring in the casual fan and whatnot. Obviously, that scenario never came into fruition, for several reasons. So here we were, four years later, both Ana and Maria meeting each other once again. It hearkened memories back to the good times, when Ana was at the top of her game, playing big matches against top players on a consistent basis late into tournaments. The Stadium was mostly filled for a night match that had a bit of a grand slam feeling to it. After all, Indian Wells is considered by many as the “5th slam” of tennis.

Things were looking good for Ana early on. She jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead and continued to show the form that had gotten her to this point of the tournament. She was hitting cleanly and returning some beautiful winners off her forehand side. Watching at home on ESPN2, I couldn’t help but think this might be another huge win in the making. Maria responded however, and broke Ana right back in the 3rd game of the match. Later, while leading 3-2, Ana had 3 break point opportunities on Sharapova’s serve, with the chance to go up 4-2. This was after having 2 break points in the previous Sharapova service game, which Ana failed to convert. After a long game that lasted over 10 minutes, Maria finally held to even the set at 3-all. The match was turning into something special, as both players where showing flashes of excellent hitting that would excite any tennis fan. After that big hold from Maria, she broke Ana in the next game and ran out to a 5-3 lead. Ana got it to 5-4, and then that’s when concern struck. Ivanovic called for a medical timeout and sought treatment off court. It wasn’t clear at the time what was bothering the Serb. Ana returned, and then proceeded to lose the 1st set 6-4.

Between sets, Ana called for her coach Nigel Sears. But instead of talking strategy, she was seeking advice on how to play through her injury. Ana was clearly in pain, and knew she was in a very difficult situation. Nigel made it known to Ana that it was OK to call it quits and retire. “Only you know how feel”, Nigel told Ana. Ana fighting back tears, decided to play on and see what she could do. After holding her serve in the first game of the 2nd set, it was quite obvious that Ana wasn’t going to finish the match. She called for a trainer again, and looked very upset. As much as Ana wanted to continue fighting on, she couldn’t and shook Maria’s hand to end the match. It was a disappointing end to a fabulous week. It was very reminiscent to Cincinnati 2010, when Ana reached the semifinals, only to retire to Kim Clijsters with a ankle injury.

Fortunately for Ana, the injury isn’t serious. She revealed on her website that she suffered a strained left glute and will being taking the next couple of days off to rest. Ana still intends on playing Miami as her doctors have assured that she will be fine for this weeks event. She is already down there, and even took apart in a charity tennis event yesterday with Djokovic, Clijsters, Wozniacki and others.

But lets go back to Indian Wells for a moment. Very few people saw this run coming, and it was a welcome surprise to all of us. It’s a shame that she couldn’t finish her match against Sharapova, given how well she was looking not only in that particular match, but for the week as a whole. It was one of Ana’s better weeks as a pro since her Roland Garros triumph in 2008, and it renewed hope that she is possibly on her way back to being a serious contender again on the WTA tour. Does this one week mean she is all the way back? No. But it does prove what Ana is capable of doing and gives us hope and optimism that great days are yet ahead on the horizon.

Ana came out of Indian Wells with a 200 point gain in the WTA rankings, staying at #16. However, she is now inside the top 10 for the WTA Race points, which decides who gets to play at the Year End Championships, and takes in account only her 2012 tournaments. It just goes to show you that Ana’s 2012 season has been quite a good year so far. Especially when compared to her starts of the previous two years in 2010 and 2011. Ana already has accumulated 3x as many rankings points this year, than she did at this very same point last year. Even better news, Ana has virtually nothing to defend during the clay court season, where she has already announced that she intends on playing Stuttgart, Madrid, Rome and of course the French Open. Excellent opportunity for Ivanovic to break back into the top 10 by June. Ana also announced that she plans on playing Fed Cup for Serbia in April, when Serbia plays Russia in Moscow. Only separated by 30 points in the WTA rankings, is very possible that Ana could surpass JJ and go in as the #1 ranked Serbian women’s tennis player, for the first time since the summer 0f 2008.

What happens next with Ana is still a mystery. Can she continue this resurgence and keep building on this momentum that she has created for herself? Only time will tell. I am however, very proud of the way she competed last week, and I look forward to what lies ahead. If Ana can continue her form from the desert, the rest of 2012 is going to be a really fun year.

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