Ivanovic's drought ends with berth in quarterfinals
FLUSHING MEADOWS, N.Y. -- Ana Ivanovic had not reached a Grand Slam quarterfinal in four years. It was 2008, the year she won the French Open and was No. 1 in the world, a 20-year-old with wits, beauty and a fearless confidence that it would always be like this.
Had she known it would be a long four years of injuries, during which her ranking dipped to No. 65, before she would again reach a quarter with a win over Tsvetana Pironkova at the U.S. Open on Labor Day, she might have made alternate plans.
"Take four-years holiday," said Ivanovic with a laugh.
Instead, those four years have been spent retooling her game, hiring a new coach in Nigel Sears and plugging away at a frustratingly slow rebound. Imagine your greatest moments came before your 21st birthday, and then four years were spent looking back wistfully at the peak.
"Being No. 1 was almost a curse in terms of trying to get back there," said her longtime agent, Gavin Versi.
Expectations were not high for her annual trek to Queens. A foot injury this summer had led to poor results and she withdrew from one event. She still takes a handful of anti-inflammatories in the morning as part of a prescribed rehab. Ivanovic came into the U.S. Open with the hope of perhaps reaching the fourth round. At best.
Instead, the 6-0, 6-4 win means she is in the quarterfinals and will be No. 13 in the world when the rankings next come out.
"It's amazing," Ivanovic said. "You know, I have been here in[the] fourth round quite a few times, so to make that step and reach [a] quarterfinal -- and also the first time since '08, which I'm very thrilled about."
Ivanovic and her team are trying to keep the excitement level from getting too high. Her next opponent is Serena Williams, who allowed fourth-round opponent Andrea Hlavackova only 10 points in the first set of a 6-0, 6-0 rout Monday.
Williams is playing her best, and Ivanovic has never beaten her. Not even before her confidence became an issue, before she started to second guess everything with her searching mind -- her shots, her health, her ability to close out matches. Once you start down that road as a player, it can be hard to stop.
"Yeah, it is a lot to do with confidence," Ivanovic said.
You could point back to the thumb injury in 2008. As injuries go, it was standard, but her thumb inhibited her grip. It was harder to hold the racket. Here she had been No. 1 in the world and she couldn't keep her instrument in her hand.
"It's part of the game in sport, and I always joke because people say, you know, sport is good for you," Ivanovic said. "But, you know, we are always hurting. You know, it's hard on the heart, too. "
Here is a woman who valued education, who read everything from Friedrich Nietzsche to Jon Krakauer during the plane rides and rain delays that make up a month on the WTA Tour. Ivanovic is smart and reflective; she could identify the issues that parted her from the No. 1 ranking, but she was hard-pressed to do much about it.
Two years ago she was asked what happened and gave a characteristically honest response.
"You start to lose confidence, and I do tend to overanalyze things," Ivanovic said. "When you're young, you have nothing to lose and play with no fear. But when you have been successful and won a Grand Slam and all of a sudden you're losing, it's very frustrating. It's a vicious circle -- you just don't know where the beginning is, or the end, either."
Now she might have some light at the end of that tunnel. It will be very hard to beat Williams with her playing so well, but Ivanovic can add this result to her résumé and heal for the rest of the season.
"She's still got a lot to achieve in tennis," Versi said. "I think she's lucky, in that she's good on all four surfaces. She could potentially win every Grand Slam. She can be a contender at each one, I still believe that. She's still got time on her side and the talent.
"People forget -- it seems like she's been around forever, but she's only 24."