Hopman Cup: Take 1

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Ever since it was announced back during the summer that Ana and Novak would be participating in the Hopman Cup this year, I’ve been counting down the days. Maybe not literally, but I’ve been looking more forward to this event than any other, even more so than the Australian Open, as crazy as that sounds. While Hopman Cup is only an exhibition, the team concept is what makes it stand apart from all the rest. Any time Ana and Nole are playing together, it is must see TV.

The Serbia duo come into the event this year has the favorites to win the title. They nearly won it all two years ago, having made it all the way to the finals, only to have to withdraw due to an abdominal injury Ana had suffered right before the finals. This year, they are determined to finish the job that they started in 2011.

Serbia won their first tie yesterday via single victories from Ana and Novak over Italians Francesca Schiavone and Andreas Seppi respectively. Ana got things started with a bagel over Schiavone in the opening set. She took care of business by proceeding to winning her match in straights 6-0, 6-4. Ivanovic was only broken once throughout the entire match, and that came when she was serving for it at 5-3 in the 2nd set. She would immediately break back to seal the victory. All in all, it was a solid performance to start the year, though Schiavone didn’t play all that well herself. I wouldn’t read too much into this one result. I did thought Ana’s fitness looked slightly improved from two months ago, however. She still has a way to go, but there is some more muscle in her arms it looks.

The real fun began in mixed doubles. The two childhood friends had their share of giggles throughout the match and provided some entertaining moments. They didn’t play their best tennis, going down to the Italian pair in straight sets, but it was all still fun nonetheless. It was worth it for these pics alone If you happened to miss any of it, here is the match below:

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While the Serbian duo lost in mixed doubles, they did win the overall tie. They play next on Wednesday night against the Australian team of Bernard Tomic and Ashleigh Barty.

After play was completed yesterday, Ana and Novak got dressed up and headed over to the Hopman Cup Ball. Ana came dressed in a red dress, looking as beautiful as she always does. I thought she looked stunning in this pic with Darren Cahill. These are the only pics that are available right now, though I’m sure there are more to come.

A successful day was capped off by a fun night for the pair that have been friends since they were four years old. We all know about their relationship since childhood, but if you haven’t read this piece yet in The Australian, I highly recommend that you do so. Here is a sampling:

THEIR athleticism aside, travellers who caught a glimpse of two Europeans travelling on a flight from Perth to Melbourne in early 2011 might have assumed they were fun-loving backpackers.

Separated by two rows in economy class, the brunette waited until her friend had fallen asleep before sneaking up to him and clapping loudly. Hysterics followed at the statuesque Serb’s over-the-top reaction.

Later, the young woman snoozed for a while using her friend’s shoulder as a support. It was an intimacy of close friends rather than that of a couple.

Lets hope these kids who once “threw sand in each others’ faces”, go all the way and take home the diamonds this time around.

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A Look Back On 2012 And A Sneak Peek At 2013

It has been a while since I lasted posted here. Nearly, three months to be exact. With the new season just a week away, here is my review of the 2012 season with a few thoughts on it. While we’re at it, I will also quickly discuss what I will be looking for in 2013. Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, lets take a look at the five best and worst things regarding Ana Ivanovic’s 2012 season.

The Five Best Things About 2012

1) The Slams: This was easily Ana Ivanovic’s best season at the slams since 2008. Ivanovic finished the year with a 12-4 record at the majors, a significant improvement over her paltry 4-4 record from a year ago. In 2012, Ivanovic made the 4th round at both the Australian Open and Wimbledon, then capped it all off by reaching the quarterfinals at the US Open. Ana’s quarterfinal run in New York was her first at a slam since winning the French Open back in 2008, ending a drought of 17 consecutive slams without a quarterfinal appearance.

Ivanovic avoided the upset bug that had stricken her so many times in the past. Her four losses at the slams this season came to Petra Kvitova, Sara Errani, Victoria Azarenka and Serena Williams, all whom which finished the year ranked inside the top eight. Contrast this to previous years losses to the likes of Johanna Larsson, Ekaterina Makarova, Petra Cetkovska, Gisela Dulko, Kateryna Bondarenko, Julie Coin and, well…you get the picture. Ivanovic played to her ranking/seeding at the slams this season rather than losing to players ranked below her.

However, I think it would be a mistake to take these slam results as a sign that Ivanovic is on her way back to being a contender again next season. Ivanovic only defeated one seeded player at the slams in 2012 and that was Julia Goerges (22) at Wimbledon. Ivanovic got to the US Open quarters in large part because her draw fell apart. She wasn’t able to come up with a win over anyone ranked ahead of her in any of the four slams. Ana showed that she is a top 15 player, but nothing more, at least at this point. Nonetheless, this is still progress. Ana’s draw broke her way on numerous occasions in the past, and she failed to take advantage of it. This time she did, and she deserves credit for.

2) Year End Ranking: Ana Ivanovic finished 2012 ranked 13th, her highest year end ranking since the 2008 season. It’s nine spots better than where she was at the end of 2011 (22). You can thank her progress at the slams as the reason for this ranking jump.

Despite the improvement in her ranking, Ana was still unable to crack the top 10 at any point this season, even though she had plenty of opportunities to do so. Ana currently sits 865 points and three places behind Caroline Wozniacki for the #10 spot. However, she has 4th round and semifinal points to defend at the Australian Open and Indian Wells respectively, so unless Ana has a phenomenal start to the 2013 season, don’t expect to see her inside the top 10 any time soon. With that being said, Ivanovic is certainly capable of getting there at some point next year. She just needs to be more consistent and pull of a big win or two at a slam. If she does that, she will certainly position herself nicely to get back to the top 10 for the first time since 2009.

3) Success in the desert: Indian Wells was another bright spot in Ana’s season. Ivanovic played perhaps her best tennis of the year at the BNP Paribas Open. En route to the semifinals, Ivanovic defeated Caroline Wozniacki and Marion Bartli, displaying a level of tennis that we haven’t seen much from her over the last few years. The semifinal against Maria Sharapova was a high quality affair that was tightly contested. Unfortunately, it ended with Ana retiring due to a left glute injury. It’s a shame Ana was never able to finish the match because the first set was a really entertaining set of tennis. The following week in Miami, Ana made the 4th round, going down in defeat to Venus Williams. This too was a quality match, with Ana unfortunately coming out on the losing side. Still, March was a really good month for Ana,  far and away her best month of the year.

4) Fed Cup: In recent years, Fed Cup has been somewhat of a nightmare for Ana Ivanovic. Too often, especially while playing at home, the pressure got to her. This year, she was able to get her nerves under control. For the first time ever, Serbia advanced to the finals of Fed Cup, where they ultimately lost to the defending champions, the Czech Republic. That wasn’t before Ana secured her most impressive win of the season by defeating Petra Kvitova on indoor hard courts in Prague 6-3, 7-5. It was a nice way to end what was ultimately another up and down season, and showed that Ana still has what it takes to defeat top ranked players. At least from time to time. Hopefully we will see more of that in 2013.

5) The Olympics: OK, the Olympics probably doesn’t belong here given that it didn’t go quite as well as we or even Ana hoped for. Ivanovic lost to Clijsters in the 3rd round 6-3 6-4 and lost her opening mixed-doubles match with Nenad Zimonjic to Mirza/Paes 6-2, 6-4. So all in all, it really wasn’t that good of a tournament for Ana. However, I put this here because a) I couldn’t think of anything else, b) Just having the opportunity to participate in the Olympics must have been a thrill for Ana after missing out on it in 2008. It was nice to see her get a couple of wins as well.

The Five Worst Things About 2012

1) Bagels: Ana was on the receiving end of four bagels in 2012. This includes a double bagel loss at the hands or Roberta Vinci in Montreal, in what was perhaps Ana’s worst performance of her career. She was nearly double bageled six weeks earlier at Wimbedon, losing to Victoria Azarenka on Center Court 6-1, 6-0. The other bagel came in a loss to Kirsten Flipkens in Linz. Prior to Wimbledon, Ana was only bageled three times throughout her entire professional career. She was bageled four times in the final four months of the season. That has to be a bit concerning.

2) Ana’s Fitness: Another point of concern is Ana’s fitness. Yes, this issue has been discussed ad nauseam by now, but it is an important topic that needs to be addressed. Ana has gotten thinner over the course of the season, and when you compare these pics from the 2010 US Open and this year’s Fed Cup final in November, it is quite alarming. Ana’s game relies on her power, and if you have watched her over the course of this past year, her lack of it has been quite evident at times. I thought Martina Navratilova said it best while commentating on one of Ana’s matches during the US Open for the Tennis Channel, if Ana wants to be a top 10 player again and challenge the game’s best, she needs to bulk up and get stronger. How much Ana improves her fitness in 2013 will go a long way in determining how successful she will be in the new year.

3) Post US Open Struggles: There was hope by many, myself included, that Ana’s first slam quarterfinal in over four years would spur her on to good results in the fall. Unfortunately, the opposite occurred. Ivanovic was a major disappointment after the US Open with early round defeats in Tokyo, Beijing and Linz. She lost to Urszula Radwanska, Romina Oprandi and Kirsten Flipkens. It wasn’t just that she lost these matches, it was how she played in them. Ana was a mess for much of the fall, and while she did play better in Moscow and at Fed Cup, this wasn’t the way Ana wanted to finish the season.

4) No Finals: 2012 was the first time in Ana’s professional career in which she went a full season without reaching the final of any tournament. We are not counting Fed Cup here since it is more of a team oriented event. Ivanovic only made the semis of an event twice this season. The first time was at Indian Wells, the other being at the Kremlin Cup in Moscow where she lost to Samantha Stosur. Though, you have to consider the fact that Ana only needed two wins against players ranked outside the top 150 (Solovieva and Dolonc) to get to the Kremlin Cup semis, so it was not as impressive as it may look. We do hope to see her lifting a trophy in 2013.

5) Adidas: This doesn’t relate to Ana directly, but I felt compelled to mention it anyways. I’ve been a fan of Adidas for years, but they were a major failure in 2012. Ana’s French Open dress was probably my least favorite outfit she has ever worn. Sorry, I don’t think mint green and red is a good color combo. While I did like the yellow outfit Ana wore at the US Open, the weird design on the side did hurt the dress’ appeal. Fortunately, Ana’s 2013 Australian Open attire does look promising. I’ll reserve further judgment until I see her on court in it during an actual match.

Also, please bring back the visor! Some fans loved the headband, I didn’t. It was cute at first, but I much prefer the visor. The headband just isn’t a good look in my opinion. It’s not just Ana, it is my opinion in general.

Looking ahead to 2013

I’m not Nostradamus, so I can’t tell you what is going to happen in 2013. It’s hard to predict what will happen next year given all the question marks surrounding Ana’s fitness and even her game. As I mentioned earlier, how well Ana improves her fitness will tell us a lot. It will be interesting to see what she looks like in the Hopman Cup and the Australian Open.

Ana has already stated that her goals for next season are to get back into the top 10 and qualify for the Year End Championship in Instanbul. I believe these are achievable and good goals to have. If she can make the necessary improvements, Ivanovic can definitely get there. I don’t even think she has to qualify for the YEC’s for next season to be successful. Just get in the top 10 and put up good results more consistently over the course of the following year will do.

Since Christmas is this upcoming Tuesday, here is a little wish list of things I would like to see from Ana in the year 2013.

  • A Healthy Year: This goes without saying, but Ana has had too many small, niggling injuries over the past few years that have disrupted her season. It feels like every time Ana is having a really good tournament, it ends with her retiring with some sort of injury, whether it was her ankle in the 2010 Cincinnati semis or her glute in the 2012 Indian Wells semis. Yesterday, Ana wrote in her diary on her official website that she has spent the past couple of weeks training in Dubai, preparing for the new season. In that same diary, she also wrote that aside from her coach Nigel Sears and a hitting partner, she also had a fitness trainer and physio as part of her team. This is an encouraging sign if she does intends to keep them within her team throughout the season. I believe it is critically important that Ana as someone at her side to help get her physically stronger in 2013.
  • Hopman Cup Victory: Two years ago, Ana and Nole made the finals of Hopman Cup, only having to withdraw beforehand due to an abdominal injury Ana suffered in their  previous mixed-doubles match. Team Serbia has unfinished business and there is nothing more I would love see than to see Ana take home the diamonds this time around. Even though it is just an exhibition, I’m not sure if there is any event that I am looking forward to more than this one. Only just one week to go!
  • Top 10: Getting back into the top 10 for the first time in nearly four years is almost mandatory for 2013 to be considered a success. It’s one of Ana’s top goals and she certainly has a chance of getting there. Lets hope she does and that she stays there. Easier said than done.
  • Continue to progress at the slams: It was nice to see Ana perform better at the majors in 2012 and give herself opportunities in the second week. This year, we hope she can continue to make progress by making another slam quarterfinal, or perhaps even a slam semi. In order for her to accomplish this, however, she’ll have to start winning against the higher ranked players. It is something Ana hasn’t done since winning the French Open. Getting deep into slams by beating highly seeded players will certainly help in the confidence department. More so than just getting there by defeating non-seeded players, as was the case at this year’s US Open.
  • Win a title: I wouldn’t consider winning a title an absolute must for me to consider 2013 a success, but it would be nice to see Ana win one. It would be even nicer if she could win a premier event. Since winning the 2008 French Open, Ana has won four titles, but they all were international tournaments (Bali and Linz). A premier title could really do wonders for her.

This concludes my wrap up of Ana’s 2012 season. Looking forward to what is hopefully a good 2013. Until then, enjoy the holidays!

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The Home Stretch

While it may be hard to believe, the 2012 tennis season is nearing its end with less than two months of play left. With the slams are over and done with, the casual fan tends to tune out right about now. But for us who follow the sport regularly, there are still lots of good tennis on the horizon. As autumn approaches, we enter the home stretch, and for Ana, the opportunity to end the year on another high note while building momentum for 2013.

Looking ahead, Ana has four tournaments remaining on her 2012 schedule: Tokyo, Beijing, Moscow and the Fed Cup final. While none of these tournaments may have the prestige as prior events throughout the year, they are still nonetheless important. Ana currently sits at #12 in the WTA rankings after her quarterfinal run at the US Open, but she has many points to defend between now and the end of the year. Most notably, Ivanovic has 250 quarterfinal points in Beijing and 375 title points from Bali to prevent from slipping away. With Bali off the schedule this year due to her participation in Fed Cup, it puts all the more pressure on Ivanovic to do well in Tokyo, Beijing and Moscow to cover as many points as possible. In all likelihood, Ivanovic will probably end the season somewhere inside the top 15, but keeping her ranking around #12 is vital to receiving a top 12 seed at the Australian Open. We have already seen how much of a difference being seeded 12th and 13th at a major can have on a players draw. So Ana’s performance these next two months could have an impact on next year. Lets take a closer look at these final four events.

Ana will begin her fall campaign in Tokyo. Last year, Ivanovic reached the third round before falling to Maria Kirilenko 6-3, 6-1. Ana is expected to be a top 12 seed this year, so defending her 125 ranking points shouldn’t be all too difficult. Of course, there are only 16 seeds and she could still very well draw a dangerous player early on, so the draw will be key. Ivanovic has made the final here once before back in 2007, where she lost to Martina Hingis. That was back when the Pan Pacific Open was played immediately after the Australian Open in early February. Since being moved to the fall, her results there have been pretty underwhelming, winning only three matches in the past four years, with first round exits in 2008 and 2009. That being said, if Ana gets a decent draw and plays to her US Open form, she could make her deepest run here since 2007.

The China Open in Beijing is one of the four premier mandatory events on the WTA calendar, along with Indian Wells, Miami and Madrid. While it doesn’t feel as big or as special as the other three, it is still just as important in terms of ranking points. This has been one of Ana’s more successful stops on tour during the past couple of seasons. Ana reached the quarterfinals the previous two years, and did so by defeating quality opponents on the way. In 2010, Ana took out #11 seed Marion Bartoli in the opening round 6-2, 6-3 and then the #7 seed Elena Dementieva in the 3rd round, before falling to Caroline Wozniacki in a very competitive quarterfinal match. In 2011, Ana again made her way to the final eight in Beijing with impressive wins over Svetlena Kuznetsova and Vera Zvonareva, before retiring to eventual champion Agnieszka Radwanksa in the quarters, trailing 6-3, 3-2. With 250 ranking points to defend, it will be important for Ana to have another good showing, whether it is here or the week prior in Tokyo to prevent Ana’s ranking from taking a dip, albeit a small one.

After the Asian portion of the fall season is complete, Ivanovic will head to Moscow to participate in the Kremlin Cup. This was a late addition to her schedule, but it presents another opportunity for her to pick up ranking points. Think of this tournament as a replacement to Bali, in which she has 375 points she cannot defend this year. As of right now, Ana would be the #4 seed, but could fall back a seed or two by time the tournament rolls around, depending on how things shake out in Tokyo and Beijing. It is not particularly a strong field, and given her form at that time, another indoor hard court title could be in stored.

Finally, Ana will end the season with a Fed Cup duel between Serbia and the Czech Republic in Prague. The Czechs are the defending Fed Cup champs and will have home court advantage, likely on indoor hard court. Serbia will no doubt be heavy underdogs and will have a huge mountain to climb, but anything is possible. Kvitova is one of, it not the best women’s tennis player today on indoor hard courts, and Safarova ain’t that bad of a player herself. Ivanovic too has had tons of success on indoor hard courts (think Linz, Bali and Lux). Jelena Jankovic has been out of form for most of the past couple of seasons but always seems up for the challenge when playing for her country. The chances of a Serbian win seem kind of bleak but never count them out. A win would be historic as it would be Serbia’s first ever Fed Cup title. A lot will be at stake.

Ana has stated on numerous occasions that her #1 goal this season is to qualify for the Year End Championships in Instanbul, which is held a week prior to the Fed Cup final. While it is technically possible she could qualify as an alternate, her chances are quite dim. Improbable would probably be the best word to describe her position. Sure, she could win Beijing and make a final in either Tokyo or Moscow, but realistically, that ain’t happening and that is what it will probably take for Ana to punch herself a ticket to Instanbul. So yeah, lets not get our hopes up on that one.

What I will be looking for out of Ana in these remaining tournaments is if she can build on her US Open run from two weeks ago. Will having finally reached a quarterfinal at a slam be a big enough lift to her confidence that it will spur her onto good results in the fall? The fall has been where Ana has played her best tennis the previous two seasons, and any kind of momentum she can take into 2013 would be welcomed.

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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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US Open Preview

It has been little over four years since Ana last reached a quarterfinal at a slam, and she will be looking to end the drought next week in Flushing Meadows. Given her draw, this may be her best opportunity to do so in sometime.

Ivanovic will open her 2012 US Open campaign playing a qualifier in the opening round. Qualifiers will be placed into the main draw over the weekend. The winner of the Kimiko Date-Krumm/Sofia Arvidsson first round match would play Ana in the second round, assuming Ana gets through her own first match. Francesca Schiavone, Sloane Stephens, Akgul Amanmuradova or another qualifier are possible third round opponents. Caroline Wozniacki would likely await in the fourth round, with Serena Williams as Ana’s most likely quarterfinal opponent. All things considered,  this is about as good of a draw Ana could have asked for, at least for the first four rounds, which is all most Ana fans really care about at this point.

One has to figure Ana shouldn’t have much problems getting through the first couple of rounds. Ivanovic holds a 4-0 career record versus Kimiko Date-Krumm, winning their last three meetings pretty decisively, all which occurred last season. Ana also leads the head-to-head over her friend Sofia Arvidsson 3-1, with her only loss occurring back in 2003. Neither pose a huge threat at the moment.

For me, the match that could spell trouble for Ana is a potential third round clash with American Sloane Stephens. While Francesca Schiavone is the seeded player in that section of the draw, I expect Stephens to knock her out in round one. As you may recall, Ivanovic and Stephens met in the 3rd round last year at the US Open, a match in which Ana won 6-3, 6-4. Stephens is a much improved player since then and playing in front of a partisan home crowd could also help. This is a much more dangerous match than it initially appears to be.

As the fourth round is concern, this has been Ana’s major road block the past four years at the slams. Since winning the French Open in June of 2008, Ana has made it to the fourth round on six different occasions, losing every single time. Lets not kid ourselves though, it hasn’t been easy for Ana in any of those matches. In those six fourth round defeats, Ana has lost to Venus and Serena Williams, Kim Clijsters, Petra Kvitova and Viktoria Azarenka twice. Being seeded 12th at this years US Open, Ana finally avoided drawing a top four seed at the midway point of a slam. Instead, she’ll receive a 5-8 seed, and probably got the most winnable match of the four in Caroline Wozniacki. Wozniacki has struggled finding her own form for much of this season, and is dealing with a knee injury sustained today in New Haven, though she continued playing and won handily. Ana defeated Wozniacki earlier this season at Indian Wells, in what was perhaps Ana’s strongest performance of the year. Wozniacki will be a challenge no doubt, and the favorite if the two were to meet. However, it’s a very winnable match for Ana, who could have drawn Petra Kvitova, Angelique Kerber or defending US Open champion Samantha Stosur in this round instead.

If everything goes well and Ana finally ends her 17-slam streak of not making a quarterfinal, it will be Serena Williams standing in Ana’s way to reach the semi’s. Lets be real here, Ana ain’t beating Serena. I don’t see anybody beating Serena, at least not until the finals. She is my pick to win it all. If Ana is fortunate enough to reach this point, the US Open is a huge success, regardless. So lets not even worry about anything beyond the fourth round.

There are still big question marks concerning Ana’s form and health going into the US Open, however. While this looks like a good draw on paper, it certainly doesn’t mean it will translate into wins. Ana’s form has has been really shaky since the French Open and she is coming off a double bagel defeat to Roberta Vinci in Montreal. Where is Ana’s confidence at this point? How about her health? Ana was forced to withdraw from Cincinnati prior to the start of the tournament due to a right foot injury. While it doesn’t seem serious and she is expected to play in New York, her preparation period sure has taken a bit of a hit with a lack of practice time over the past week, and even more importantly, lack of match play over the course of the past month. These are two issues that stop and make you pause when trying to decipher Ana’s draw and where she will ultimately finish.

Given these question marks, it makes predicting Ana’s performance at this year’s US Open tricky. She is already an unpredictable player to begin with. We have seen her draw open up at slams in the past only for her to fail to take advantage. So while she has a favorable draw this time around, nothing is guaranteed. Especially when we’re talking about Ana. If Ana is healthy and finds the form she had for much of the first half of the season, I believe she has a great shot at finally reaching a slam quarterfinal for the first time since 2008. If not, then a upset is in the cards. In the end, it all comes down to which Ana we get.

As for final predictions, my gut feeling is that Sloane Stephens will defeat Ana in round three. I really hope I am wrong, but the past two months has casted too much doubt, and there are just too many question marks for me too feel confident enough to say Ana will finally get to that elusive slam quarterfinal we’ve been waiting for these past four years. Don’t get me wrong, I certainly believe she can, and hope that she does, but I’m just not feeling it quite yet. Then again, I am horrible with predictions, so this is probably good thing.

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Ana set to play a series of exhibitions in December

Yes, it has been a while since I last posted here, and a lot has happened in the meantime. Most of which, wasn’t good. This summer has not been the best of times for Ana, who was on the receiving end of a double bagel in Montreal by Roberta Vinci and was forced to pull out of Cincinnati due to a right foot injury. Instead of dwelling on all that though, lets look forward to the US Open and the off-season. Yes, the off-season. I bring that up because over the past week, it has been learned that Ana will be playing in a couple exhibition events this December.

Today, it was announced on her official website that Ana will be taking part in an exhibition event on December 1st in Milan, Italy. Ivanovic will play a one-set singles match and a one-set doubles match as part of her participation. In singles, Ana will face off against Roberta Vinci. The same Roberta Vinci who double bageled her two weeks ago. This time in Italy. Lets hope things go better this time around. The more intriguing news however, was the announcement of Ana teaming up with Maria Sharapova for doubles, as the duo will take on the Italian team of Roberta Vinci and Sara Errani. It’s a glamorous pairing, though I’m not sure if the tennis itself will be glamorous. It’s all in good fun though and should be entertaining to watch, in one way or another.

Milan however, may not be the only exhibition event Ana intends on playing this December. It has also been reported by Chilean websites Latercera and lun.com that Ana will be in Chile for an exhibition match on December 6th, and then fly to Qatar the following day for another exho in Doha. Her opponent for this exho has yet to be determined, though Agnieszka Radwanska and Petra Kvitova have been mentioned as possibilities. This has not been confirmed by her official website yet, but it does seem legit. Thanks to (@Isabsan) on twitter for the heads up and translation of this news. All credit goes to her.

Aside from these events, Ana and Novak Djokovic will also be teaming up again to play in the Hopman Cup this upcoming January to kick off the 2013 season. The two have played in the Hopman Cup twice before back in 2006 and 2011. They reached the final last year, before having to withdraw due to an abdominal injury Ana suffered during the event. I was of course ecstatic to hear the news, knowing we will get more of thisthisthis and this. Honestly, I could go on and on posting links to pics and videos of Ana and Novak together, but I would need a whole separate post for that. Just the fact that Serbian Ken and Barbie are reuniting makes me giddy, and I cant wait to see what they have in stored for us next year.

While Ana has participated in exhibition events in the past, such as the Hopman Cup and the BNP Paribas Showdown in New York, it’s been a long time since she has done so in the off-season, and unusual for her to play in this many. You have to go back to 2007 when Ana last played an exhibition event during the months of November and December.  Then, she played a charity exhibition doubles match with Novak Djokovic, Janko Tipsarevic and Jelena Jankovic in her hometown of Belgrade. She would later play in exho in Hong Kong at the beginning of January (2008). Whatever is Ana’s reasoning for playing as many of these exhibitions this upcoming off-season, I am all for it. For one, getting some match play in can never hurt, even if it is just an exhibition. Secondly, it gives us something to look forward to in the doldrums of the tennis off-season. Until then, we need a strong finish the 2012 campaign and get things back on track for 2013.

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Behind the scenes in the making of Adidas miCoach

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Ana will be appearing in the new Adidas miCoach video game, which comes out later this month. The purpose of this video game, unlike most others, is to actually get you in shape. This fitness game features other world class athletes including Dwight Howard, Tyson Gay, Eric berry and Ana’s own friend Andrea Petkovic.

The video above is behind the scenes takes with Ana Ivanovic. My favorite part? Her little boxing sequence at 2:11. Somebody needs to gif that.

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