Over the weekend, I had a post ready to go discussing what I thought was so far an impressive Wimbledon for Ana, despite her somewhat subpar level of play. I never got around to submitting it. Through the first three rounds, Ana had defeated Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez, Kateryna Bondarenko and Julia Goerges. Two of those matches were three setters and the other featured a tiebreak, which Ana won with relative ease. Given Ana’s performance in such situations throughout the past couple of years, fighting through and winning these matches was impressive in its own right. So I was fairly happy and content with her Wimbledon thus far, and thought her ride to the fourth round was worthy of praise. Then came Manic Monday.
Ana once again found herself knocking on the door of her first slam quarterfinal appearance since winning the French Open in 2008. In her five attempts since then, she has failed to take a set in every match. It wasn’t like she was facing lightweights on those occasions though. At the 2009 French Open, Ana went down to then #9 seed Victoria Azarenka (Ana was seeded 8th). A few weeks later, Ana retired early in the 2nd set of her fourth round meetup with Venus Williams at Wimbledon. Kim Clijsters took Ana apart fairly easily at the 2010 US Open, with Serena following suit in 2011 (though Ana played surprisingly well). Earlier this year at the Australian Open, Kvitova dispatched Ivanovic in the fourth round, but was taken to a 2nd set tiebreak by Ana. Five tough matches, five straight set loses.
With Ana again in the fourth round at a slam, the opportunity once again presented itself for a second week breakthrough. I can’t say was expecting her to win. I wasn’t. But I was hopeful that she had an surprise upset in her, as it felt as she was due for a big win. Anything can happen at a slam. If Lukas Rosol can take down Rafael Nadal, then surely Ana was capable of knocking out the women’s number two Viktoria Azarenka.
Things looked promising for the former Roland Garros champ at the onset. Ivanovic rushed out to a 40-0 lead in her opening service game, with a couple of nicely played points. Azarenka was able to fight back to deuce, and several deuces later, finally broke Ana for the early 1-0 lead. Ana’s game just sputtered out of control from thereon, and end up going down in defeat 6-1, 6-0. In the sole game that Ana won, she had to save a break point just to avoid what would had eventually become a double bagel. In the end, Ana was served a breadstick and a bagel. Not exactly the ‘Breakfast at Wimbledon’ I wanted to watch unfold live on my TV screen.
Performance wise, it was without question Ana’s worst of the year, and near the top of the list for her career. Going by the scoreline, it was the worst loss of her entire pro career, which includes all ITF events dating back to 2003. Never before had Ana went a complete match winning fewer than two games, until this week. It was only the fourth time in Ivanovic’s career that she had even been bageled by an opponent. The previous three times came against Sybille Bammer in the 2007 Indian Wells quarterfinals, Daniela Hantuchova at the 2008 Australian Open semi’s (Ana still won that match), and versus Alisa Kleybanova in the 2nd round of the 2010 French Open.
There have been worse loses in Ana’s career. Julie Coin at the 2008 US Open, Johanna Larsson at the 2011 French Open, Kleybanova at the 2010 French, among others come to mind. This one however, was just so difficult to watch. Now lets be clear, Azarenka was on top of her game and was zoning it. Even if Ana had brought her B game, it probably wouldn’t have been enough to win. In retrospect, this lopsided loss shouldn’t have been surprising at all given Ana’s lackluster play through the first week at the All England Club. But the discrepancy in the scoreline and level of play between the two players is what makes this demoralizing loss, tough to take. It felt as if Ana took one step forward and then five steps back this week…to 2010.
So where does this leave us now? The answer is hard to say. Ana has had a decent year to this point, though it could be better than it has been. Most of her loses have come against top ranked players, and she has been competitive in about all of them, this weeks loss aside. Ivanovic is beating the players she should beat, players that are ranked below her. She just has troubles against the games elite. Whether it is mental or physical, Ana needs to figure out the riddle soon. If Ivanovic wants to reach her goals she has set for herself this season, which includes reaching the top 10 and qualifying for the Year End Championships in Instanbul, a breakthrough performance at a slam is almost mandatory. She has had her chances. Her draw broke open at the French, and a win over Errani would had likely gotten herself into the top 10. A win over Azarenka would have leapfrogged Ana into the 9th position in next weeks WTA rankings (she’ll move up two spots to #12 instead). Both would have also put her inside the top 10 in the race points category as well. Ana failed to capitalize on both occasions and the opportunities ahead of her will begin to dwindle.
Ana’s next event will be played on the very same courts that she has just left. Ivanovic will have the chance at redemption at the Olympic games, which will be played at the All England Club four weeks from now. With Rogers Cup, Cincinnati and then the US Open coming immediately afterwards, this summer will be Ana’s last great opportunity to make a serious move at checking off the goals on our 2012 wish list. She’ll need a good summer season to finally get back into the top 10 and position herself for a possible Instanbul berth. The US Open will be her last opportunity of the season to get the elusive first slam quarterfinal since 2008, which ironically is the only slam she has yet to make a quarterfinal at in her career. To accomplish all of this, Ana will certainly need to come up with a few big wins over big name players. How she responds to her latest loss will go a long ways in determining her fate ahead. I still believe she has what it takes to do it, but the question is, does she have the belief?