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Championships Profile: Ana Ivanovic
DOHA, Qatar – When the brilliant Justine Henin retired in May, women’s tennis needed to find a new, triumphant No.1. So when Ana Ivanovic captured her first Grand Slam title at Roland Garros a few weeks later, building on her runner-up finish to Maria Sharapova at the Australian Open, it seemed all prayers had been answered.
Not only did the vivacious 20-year-old Serb present like a dream from central casting – not unlike Wonder Woman without the headband – she had the results to reinforce the hype. As well as impressing in the majors Ivanovic had won the Tier I title at Indian Wells and reached the semis at Berlin and Sydney and quarters at Dubai, all of it done with a smile.
But after winning the French Open and assuming the top ranking – becoming the 17th woman to achieve the feat – Ivanovic’s season began to unravel. Having survived match points against Nathalie Dechy in the second round at Wimbledon she was subsequently dispatched by Zheng Jie, which precipitated a startling reversal of fortune. A thumb injury certainly didn’t help – it forced Ivanovic to withdraw from what should have been her first Olympics – but it seemed there was an attendant crisis in confidence as well.
And the early losses mounted: Montréal, Tokyo, Beijing, Moscow. Indeed, up to and including the Kremlin Cup, Ivanovic did not win back-to-back matches at five tournaments in a row, the nadir coming in the second round at the US Open against Julie Coin, a qualifier ranked No.188 in the world. The slump was surely all the more frustrating given each loss had been in three sets.
Nonetheless, Ivanovic’s results from the first half of the year were enough to see her qualification for the Sony Ericsson Championships announced on July 30, at the same time as her compatriot Jelena Jankovic, who stood just nine points ahead.
“I am proud to have already qualified for the Sony Ericsson Championships,” said Ivanovic, who didn’t yet know things would get worse before they got better. “During 2008 I achieved two of my life’s goals by winning my first Grand Slam and reaching No.1 in the rankings. To win the tournament in Doha would be the perfect end to a season that I will never forget.”
And there was, indeed, light at the end of the tunnel for the younger Serb, who in the space of a couple of weeks has re-established herself as a genuine contender at Doha, for which she finished fifth in the Race, on 3,353 points.
Encouraging signs of a return to top form came at the Tennis.com Zürich Open, where Ivanovic made the last four for the first time since the French Open. It took eventual champion Venus Williams to beat her in a tight three-setter but the Serb carried her newfound momentum to the Generali Ladies Linz the following week. As the top seed on a ranking of No.4, she defeated home favorite Sybille Bammer and in-form Italian Flavia Pennetta before coming back from a break down in the third set against Agnieszka Radwanska. Ivanovic then crushed Vera Zvonareva in the final for her third title of the year.
“Especially after coming back from an injury and putting in a lot of hard work, it’s great to see the results,” said Ivanovic, not without understatement, having improved her 2008 singles record to 37-13.
Last year, on her debut at the Tour championships, Ivanovic beat Svetlana Kuznetsova and Daniela Hantuchova in her round robin pool to advance to the semifinals. On that occasion it required none other than Henin to halt her progress. The Belgian won’t be back, but now is Ivanovic’s chance to re-stake her claim as the genuine successor.