Ana ends quarterfinal drought at the US Open

At times, it felt like an eternity since Ana last reached a quarterfinal at a major. Since winning the French Open in 2008, Ivanovic had gone over four years and 17 consecutive slams without reaching the elite eight at a major. That drought finally came to an end earlier this week when she defeated Tsvetana Pironkova in the fourth round at the US Open. While Ana’s US Open campaign came to an end on Wednesday night with a 6-1, 6-3 loss at the hands of Serena Williams, she comes away with her head held high, accomplishing her goal she set forth for herself at the onset of the tournament.

If you had told me two weeks ago that Ana would make it past the round of 16 at the US Open, I wouldn’t have believed you. She was coming off a double bagel defeat to Roberta Vinci in Montreal, and a foot injury that forced her to withdraw from Cincinnati. Ivanovic even admitted that a week before the US Open began, she worried if she would be able to play or not. Her foot gradually begin to feel better, thanks to some rest and pain killers, and by the start of the season’s last slam, she was ready to go.

Some will point to Ana’s relatively easy draw as a reason for her getting as far as she did. While it is true that the draw did broke her way, especially after Wozniacki lost in the opening round, she still had to beat the players in front of her. How many times over the past four years have Ana’s draw fallen apart only for her not to take advantage of it? It had happened on numerous occasions, but not this time. Ana opened her US Open campaign with a 6-3, 6-2 victory over qualifier Elina Svitolina. She followed that up with an impressive 6-2, 6-2 win over bestie Sofia Arvidsson in the second round. In that match, Ana was aggressive from her forehand wing, hitting a total of 39 winners in 14 games. Watch every forehand winner in the video below.

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The third round felt like a case of deja vu. For the second consecutive year, Ana met American Sloane Stephens in the round of 32. Like in 2011, they played in the first night session match on Arthur Ashe, on a Saturday night. If you recall from my pre-US Open preview, I wasn’t too optimistic about this match-up. My gut told me Ana would fall in defeat to an more improved Stephens from a year ago.  Fortunately, my gut was wrong. While Stephens did give a better showing this time around, Ana still prevailed in three sets, after dropping the opening set tiebreak. It wasn’t exactly a high quality match, as Ana hit into 56 unforced errors for the match. Despite that, it was tight and it was tense. Ivanovic picked up her level in the third set and finally pulled away from the inexperienced Sloane Stephens. She was now one win away from the quarters.

Standing between Ana and her first quarterfinal appearance at a slam since Roland Garros 2008 was Tsvetana Pironkova. Pironkova has made a couple of quarterfinals herself at Wimbledon during the past three years, but she is known more as a grass court specialist. This was the deepest she had gone at a hard court major and Ana was seen the big favorite. But being a big favorite doesn’t always equate to an easy victory. Though, early on, it was looking like it would be a walk in the park for Ana. She bageled Pironkova in the 1st set and look to be in cruise control. The 2nd set however, was more of a battle. Pironkova picked up her game a little while Ana started struggling on her serve. Despite a few hiccups however, Ana finally sealed the deal and booked her spot in the quarters with a 6-0, 6-4 victory over the Bulgarian. Below is match point and her post-match interview with Mary Joe Fernandez.

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Ana’s quarterfinal match versus Serena Williams went as everybody expected, with Ana coming out on the losing end 6-1, 6-3. I didn’t think Ana played all that bad. She just ran into a buzz saw that was Serena, who has been dominant all summer long. She fought hard, especially in the 2nd set, and really, that is all one could ask for.

So exactly how long of a drought was it? According to the WTA official website, Ivanovic holds the Open Era record for longest drought between winning a grand slam title and reaching a slam quarterfinal (17 slams). The next closest is Svetlena Kuznetsova at 7 slams. Ana not only broke the record, she obliterated it. It’s not exactly a record you don’t want to hold. Nonetheless, it stops at 17, and hopefully the time between now and her next slam quarterfinal won’t be nearly as long. Ironically, the US Open was the one major where she had yet to reach the final eight. Over the past three years, the slam that once was a house of horrors for Ana (think 2008 and 2009), has suddenly become her most successful major in the past few years.

The big question coming away from all this will be if Ana can transfer her success in New York to the the final few tournaments of the season. Ana’s game still has many flaws and she is far from her top form. Even though she made it into the 2nd week, Ana’s play wasn’t always spectacular. Her 49% overall first serve percentage for the tournament is proof of that. She still has yet to prove she can beat the top players (though, lets not read much into the Serena match) and still is very inconsistent with her serve. Winning though can be the greatest cure. One has to imagine that accomplishing her goal of reaching a slam quarterfinal will boost her confidence as she moves ahead to the remainder of the 2012 season.

Looking ahead, Ana’s remaining 2012 schedule consists of Tokyo, Beijing, Moscow and the Fed Cup final in Prague against the Czech Republic. She has lots of points to defend during the fall, including quarterfinal points in Beijing and title points in Bali. We have seen how much of a difference being a top 12 seed had on Ana’s draw these past two weeks, and it is important that Ana keeps her ranking high enough to be a top 12 seed at the Australian Open next January. She will be ranked #12 on Monday and will need a strong finish to the season to keep that ranking.

At the end of the day, the US Open was a resounding success for Ana and a moment all Ana fans should cherish. It’s been a long time coming.

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