I try not to get excited about Ana Ivanovic. It’s not that I don’t enjoy watching her play, because I do. It’s just that I don’t like investing myself emotionally in players about whom I am uncertain of their level of commitment to tennis. Consequently I have avoided becoming emotionally invested in Ana Ivanovic.
In fact she doesn’t know this but I broke up with her around January last year because I felt that I started hearing more about Ana the model than about Ana the tennis player. And I decided that since I had signed on only for the tennis, well, we would just have to go our separate ways.
When Ivanovic lost in the first round of the 2009 US Open, I literally stopped thinking about her. She had not too long announced the termination of her coaching relationship with Craig Kardon, and had signed on as a star pupil in the adidas Player Development Program. With coaching powerhouses like Sven Groeneveld, Darren Cahill, and Mats Merkel on her team, and Gil Reyes as her fitness trainer, I felt that it was reasonable to expect that Ivanovic would go past the first round of the US Open. Or at least that she would not lose to the likes of Kateryna Bondarenko. So that was it. Ana was a non-person to me.
And I literally did not give Ivanovic another moment’s thought again until I happened across her match against Shenay Perry at the Australian Open at the start of this year. Shenay Perry is a lower-ranked player who has spent most of her career playing Challenger doubles tournaments. She had to qualify to enter the Aussie Open. She has none of Ivanovic’s natural talent. And yet Ivanovic struggled to put her away.
I remember thinking at the time that I could not believe that I was watching a former #1 player. I predicted the loss to Dulko in the second round. I concluded that I had been right about Ivanovic after all. She was so not worth my emotional investment. And just like that, she dropped completely out of my mind.
And then came Cincinnati. A seemingly fit, healthy, and of course beautiful Ana Ivanovic showed up to play. I only knew this because I had been following Amanmuradova who lost to Ivanovic, having run out of steam.
In spite of myself, I started catching up on all things Ana. One commentator informed the listening audience that Ivanovic had abandoned the Adidas Player Development Program and was now working with Heinz Gunthardt who is famous for having coached Steffi Graf to mind-boggling success. I knew that Gunthardt has a reputation for being a hard taskmaster who brings out the best in his students so to me, this was good news. Not that I have anything against the adidas program, but Safina is also one of their products, right?
Another commentator mentioned that Ivanovic has undergone many changes – coaches, rackets, endorsement contracts – but felt that these were good things as Ivanovic was clearly motivated to try to find what was right for her. Someone disagreed, saying that she did not understand Ivanovic’s decision to change rackets in the middle of the season. Someone else commented on her non-verbal exchanges with Gunthardt who seemed fully supportive and proud of his student as she nicely put away my new best friend Amanmuradova. Me I had no comment. I was too busy willing poor Amanmuradova to get some life in them failing legs.
But I have to admit that despite myself, I found myself feeling happy to see Ivanovic back on the court. It was great hearing her post-point screams of confidence and watching her characteristic fist pumps when she knew she had done something just right. Her strategy for playing Amanmuradova was spot on. So when she made it to the semi-finals and would be facing Kim Clijsters, I decided that I would watch the match. I wasn’t ready to promise her my heart as yet, but I was intrigued to see how she would handle Clijsters and her speedy corner-to-corner groundstrokes.
The match got off to a decent start. Ivanovic held, serving confidently and controlling the points with her strong forehand. Clijsters also held, playing her typical speedy corner-to-corner-to-corner game. Her game is predictable but still highly effective because she can change direction on a dime. So when she broke Ivanovic in the next game, I was not surprised. And then Ivanovic stopped playing. She had injured a foot.
I honestly feel for her. Having been unable myself to play tennis for over a month because of a left foot stress fracture, I personally know what it feels like to get derailed by injury. I mentioned this to my coach this morning on my first day back. He threw his head back and laughed heartily, and then replied, “There was nothing wrong with Ana Ivanovic. She just got scared is all. She knew that she was not going to win that match and she decided not to try”. Harsh words, yes. But part of me can’t help but wonder if he's right.