Ana Ivanovic has come undone.
It’s almost hard to believe that she was ranked no. 1 in the world as recently as last year after the display she put on last night in a remarkable loss to Kateryna Bondarenko, 2-6, 6-3, 7-6 (9-7).
“It’s very disappointing,” she said after her match. “It hurts.”
Ivanovic’s reputation, particularly when she was a rising star, was that she was too nice on the court, and that she needed to show a little more emotion.
Last night, there was too much emotion. In a draining, 1 hour, 14 minute final set, Ivanovic slapped her racquet on the court, swapped the air in disgust and nearly broke into tears when she had to come up for a serve, down match point.
The loss capped off a dramatically disappointing season. She made it no farther than the fourth round of a Grand Slam this year, and she admitted she doesn’t know exactly where to go from here.
“My fitness is at one level, mind at another, my game is at another level,” she said at a press conference.
Ivanovic’s forehand has always been her best asset. It left her last night. Her serve has always been iffy at best, but last night, particularly in the third set, it was nowhere to be seen. She hit into five double faults, including three in the final set. No fewer than a dozen times in the final set, she had to catch her service toss in midair and start again. Every time, the crowd let out an exasperated groan. She was unnerved.
“Yeah, it’s — I think it just — it’s very hard to describe, because what happens is that sometimes when I toss, I either release too early or I flick it and I release too late,” she said.
When she lost the 14th point of the third set tiebreaker, and was finally down match point, she dropped the bill of her visor and pressed her hands across her face to, it appeared, suppress tears. She came up for her last serve heaving. After Bondarenko returned her serve, Ivanovic duly dropped a forehand error directly into the net.
It needs to be said that Kateryna Bondarenko has proven to be an upset master this year. The 22-year-old Ukrainian defeated Venus Williams at the Rogers Cup last month and Aggie Radwanska at the Australian Open back in January.
But nonetheless, at age 21, Ivanovic quit simply can’t lose matches like this. She was down 4-1 in the third set. Champions come back. She did. She evened it out at 4-4. But then, after laboring her way to a tiebreak, with match point in her pocket, she gave it away, and then gave away the match.
Tennis careers, much like baseball teams building toward a World Series, generally build one step to the next. In 2007, she made it to the French Open final and the Wimbledon semifinals. She got killed in each match. She told this newspaper she needed to find a way to get the confidence to win those matches.
In 2008, she did just that. With Justine Henin freshly retired, Ivanovic routed a player in the French Open final even more emotionally fragile than she was: Dinara Safina.
Ever since, with a shoulder injury, and massive overhaul of her coaching team, Ivanovic hasn’t capitalized on that success. When a reporter asked her last night if she wishes she could write off the past year, she said, “Yeah, I do. I do many times. I wish that.”
She said she feels older than being 21, and that, “Probably in a few days I will look [older because of the] bags under my eyes.
Nonetheless, she cautioned the press, “As much as it hurts and it’s been disappointing, I feel I learned a lot from it. I learned a lot about myself and you know, people around me and about what I have to do and in order to become a better player.”
We hope so, Ana. Take a vacation and get back.