In Indian Wells, with wins over two young players vying to be the future of tennis, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have set up another battle in a long line of duels.
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Grand Slam quarter-finals have been elusive for Ana Ivanovic since achieving the ultimate success at the 2008 French Open and it’s no surprise she’s missed out again after her straight sets thrashing by Agnieszka Radwanska.
For the 18th time in 19 Grand Slam tournaments, Ivanovic has failed to reach the final eight. But the bottom line is, Radwanska was simply too good and Ivanovic probably drew the wrong opponent to play in a very important Grand Slam match.
But she has improved a lot in her fitness after a disappointing 2012 season which saw her fail to reach a single WTA Tour final, fail to beat any of the eventual year-end championships qualifiers (the win over Petra Kvitova in the Fed Cup final does not count as it happened after the year-end championships), suffer the ignominy of a double-bagel defeat and only reach two semi-finals and three quarter-finals all year.
However, the most important of those quarter-finals was at last year’s US Open. It was her first Grand Slam quarter-final since her triumph at Roland Garros in 2008 and to date it is her only Grand Slam quarter-final in that same period.
But she really didn’t perform to quarter-final level on that night last September, only taking four games off Serena Williams, the eventual champion.
That was also the same number of games she took from Nadia Petrova in her only other quarter-final loss at a Grand Slam, at the 2005 French Open.
Fans of Ana Ivanovic (myself included) shouldn’t be disheartened from the loss to Radwanska. At least she successfully defended all of her points from last year but losing her first service game in each set clearly didn’t help her chances and she never recovered.
Ivanovic showed mixed form this month, winning her round-robin matches at the Hopman Cup very easily before slipping up in the crucial final rubber against Anabel Medina Garrigues. The Australian Open showed a very similar trend, winning three matches before losing her next match.
Clearly there’s a long way to go before we can officially declare Ana Ivanovic is back to her best.
Her defeat to Radwanska is her seventh straight defeat to a top 10 opponent (and sixth straight to a top four player) at a Grand Slam since defeating Jelena Jankovic in the semi-finals of the 2008 French Open.
Furthermore, she has failed to win even a set off any of them, coming closest in the corresponding round of last year’s Australian Open to Petra Kvitova (when she lost a second set tiebreak).
If you include the 2008 French Open semi-final against Jankovic, she has lost 15 of her last 16 sets against top 10 opposition at Grand Slam tournaments.
She clearly lacks the power and size of today’s WTA top four players. She has not defeated a reigning top four player since Indian Wells last year when she impressively defeated Caroline Wozniacki in the fourth round, only giving up five games.
Of the current top four, she has not defeated any of them since defeating Victoria Azarenka at Cincinnati in 2010 (although at the time Azarenka was ranked 12, while Ivanovic was in a career crisis, ranked 62) and is 7-17 against them in head-to-head.
Ivanovic went 0-5 against the current top four, the worst record of any top 20 player in 2012.
The bottom line is that there is still a lot of work to be done if she is to again challenge in big tournaments and consider herself to be a world-class player.
Her next tournament is Pattaya, where she can consider herself to be a strong chance, as she is the highest ranked player to enter thus far, with Maria Kirilenko (15) the next highest. Between now and Indian Wells, she has only 250 rankings points to defend, so a strong run in Pattaya should help to boost her ranking. A title win would be long overdue as well.
Nigel Sears has repeatedly said Ana Ivanovic “is still a work in progress”. But on the basis of her exit from the Australian Open, Ivanovic has not made any progress at all. But maybe she has.
We’ll find out over the next month how far Ivanovic has come since her darkest period three years ago.