Australian Open: My Final Thoughts

Another slam has come to an end with Ana bowing out in the fourth round. This time, it was a 6-2, 6-4 loss to Agnieszka Radwanska that sent Ana packing her bags out of Melbourne. Radwanska was her usual consistent self, while Ana was, well…inconsistent.

There’s no question that Ana has made progress at the slams over the past year or so. With this result, Ana has now reached the fourth round in five of her last six slams. Ana has played to her seeding, which was something she wasn’t doing in the previous couple of years. However, the problem persists, she can’t beat the top players on the big stage. Ana certainly had her chances against Radwanska. While she went through a pretty bad stretch during the first set in which her forehand went AWOL, she did play solid tennis in a competitive second set. What ultimately did Ana in was her inability to take advantage of the opportunities that she had created for herself. Ana finished the match 0-7 on break point chances. The ever so consistent Radwanska played the bigger points better, while Ana got tight in such moments. In the end, it was a disappointing, but not a surprising loss for Ivanovic.

Ana ultimately defended her points from last year, so all in all, it wasn’t a bad week. Still, the question remains, is she capable of making another deep run (semis+) at a slam? Ana’s inability to come through against the top players suggests the answer is no. At least for the time being. Unless her draw breaks her away, it feels as if the quarterfinals is her ceiling, and she has only made one of those since her French Open triumph in 2008. Ana has yet to take a set off a top 10 player in a slam since defeating Jelena Jankovic in the 2008 French Open semis. That obviously has to change if Ana wants to accomplish the goals that she has set for herself.

A key to beating the top players is regaining her lost power. Ben Rothenberg of the New York Times and No Challenges Remaining Podcast noted during the following during Ana’s match against Radwanska:

Ana

That just isn’t going to cut it against the top players when your game relies on a powerful serve and forehand. It was these weapons that got Ana to the top in 2007/2008, and if Ana is ever going to get back there again, or at least make herself a legit top ten player again, she needs to regain the power that she has lost over the past couple of years. While her movement has improved a bit with her leaner build, it has come at a cost. If we’re doing a cost/benefit analysis, the benefits do not outweigh the costs. Simply put, Ana will just get outhit by the big hitters on tour such as Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka. Ana did address the issue in her post-match presser on Sunday.

Q.  On your strength thing, your serve, is that part of it?  You don’t quite have the velocity you had earlier in your career.  Is it all about upper body strength?

ANA IVANOVIC:  Well, no, it’s just overall strength.  It’s lots of repetitions.  Tennis, it’s very physical, and you do hit a lot of forehands or serves, sort of high shots.  You need that strength to put behind the ball so you can generate more pace and power.

Serve, it’s also a lot of technique.  I still can serve pretty hard out there.  But, you know, it’s just something I really feel I need to work, and a little more explosivity also.

As I wrote in my season preview post, how well Ana improves her overall fitness throughout the course of this year will go a long way in determining how successful she is against the top ranked players. Until she gets the power back in her shots, I have a difficult time seeing her going much further in the slams. This isn’t the sole reason for Ana’s lack of success against the top seeds in the slams, but it is a significant one.

Ivanovic has a busy month ahead of her. In February, Ana will play four events; Fed Cup, Pattaya, Doha and Dubai. She will only have 190 ranking points to defend, so February will present an opportunity for Ana to improve her ranking, which currently sits at #13. As of right now, Ana will be the top seed in Pattaya. A title this early in the season would be welcoming. With 45o semifinal points to defend at Indian Wells in March, it will be important for Ana to build up enough points as possible in the upcoming weeks so her ranking doesn’t take too big of a hit should she lose early at the BNP Paribas Open.

Seeing how tough the current top four in the WTA is right now, and knowing the difficulties Ana has in beating them, it will be crucial for her put herself in a position to be a top 12 seed at the French Open and Wimbledon. Those two events are so far down the road that a lot can happen between now and then, but with Ana only one ranking spot from the top 12, her play over the next few months could have a big impact on her draw and chances in her next couple of slams. We already have seen the benefit of being a top 12 seed had on Ana’s draw at the US Open.

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