Ana loses heartbreaker to Sharapova in Rome

For the second time in two months, Ana Ivanovic met Maria Sharapova on a tennis court. This comes after not facing each other for over four years prior, in which the two faced off in the final of the 2008 Australian Open, also dubbed the “Glam Slam” final. When the two squared off in the semifinals of Indian Wells back in March, they never had the opportunity to complete what they started, as Ana abruptly retired due to an groin injury, early in the 2nd set. It was an unfortunate ending, given the high quality nature of the match until that point.

Things looked bright very early on for Ana, as she jumped out to an early 3-0, double break lead over the Russian. While Sharapova did get one of the breaks back, Ana eventually found herself serving for the 1st set, leading 5-4. What followed was one of the more frustrating games a Ana fan has endured in quite some time. Ivanovic had numerous opportunities to close out the 1st set. The first came in the game prior on Sharapova’s serve, in which Ana had a set point, which she failed to convert. But that was fine. She had the opportunity to close it out on her own serve. Ana had a total of six, count them SIX set points on her serve. She could not convert on any of them. Maria eventually broke back to level the first set at 5 all. The two eventually found themselves in a tiebreak, where Ana took an early mini-break 3-1 lead, but would only win one more point for the entire tiebreak. Sharapova took the tiebreak 7-4, ending a heartbreaking first set for Ivanovic.

After letting the 1st set get away, I wasn’t expecting much in the 2nd set. Not taking advantage of seven match points is going to play with your mind, and anybody who follows Ana knows that her head isn’t always her strength during situations like these. But to Ana’s credit, she did brush off that first set, at least temporarily. Ivanovic jumped out to a 3-1 lead in the 2nd set, looking to bounce back from that first set debacle. Those three games however, would be all that she would win, as Sharapova came storming back, winning the next five games. Masha won the match, 7-6 (4), 6-3. This will be a match Ana won’t easily forget.

Put this down as another heartbreaking defeat for Ana and her fans. There’s been many of these over the past few years, more than any would prefer. To say this match was frustrating would be an understatement. There is a positive way of looking at this though. Ana will go into the French Open with five clay wins under her belt. That is the most she has had entering Roland Garros since 2007, the same year in which she reached her maiden slam final. Compare this to last year, in which Ivanovic only won twice the entire clay season, loosing to the likes of Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Yanina Wickmayer and Johanna Larsson. Those were terrible loses. Losing tight, competitive matches to the #1 and #2 players in the world is nothing to be ashamed of.

Ana is in a better place now than where she was a year ago. With a stable coach in Nigel Sears, Ana now rarely loses to players she is favored against. Ivanovic is winning the matches she is supposed to win, and battling, some times toe to toe, with the top players in the game. The problem is, when things tend to get tight, Ana falls apart. It’s all mental. If Ana wants to be the best again, she has to beat the best. She has yet to be able to do it. But the fact that she is playing the best players more regularly now, is a good sign. So far this season, Ana has face six players ranked inside the top four of the WTA rankings. She played six players inside the top four combined the last two years. Ana is now giving herself more opportunities to face off against the best in the world; now she has to take it to the next level and beat them. That is what it is going to take to be a top 10 player and slam contender again. She has progressed nicely over the past year under Nigel Sears, and I’m confident that she will eventually break through very soon, and score that elusive, big victory.

A great place to start would be the French Open, which is where Ana heads to next. With a 3rd round showing this week, Ivanovic’s ranking will jump to #13, her highest ranking since August of 2009. This means she will be seeded 13th (barring someone ahead of her withdrawing) at Roland Garros. With a seeding of 13, Ana will be slated to meet one of the top four ranked players in the 4th round in Paris. So if Ana is going to reach her first slam quarterfinal in four years, she’ll likely have to defeat a top player like Sharapova, Azarenka, Radwanska or Kvitova in order to make that happen. If Ana had won yesterday, she would had been a 12 seed, avoiding the top four in the 4th round. But I’m confident in Ana’s ability to get the big win. The question is, will her mind allow her to? I see her doing well at the French, where she won her first and only slam title four years ago. How far she goes will depend on her draw and how she handles the big situations. The draw will be done next Friday morning in Paris.

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