After 7 Years, Could Ana Ivanovic Actually Win Another French Open?
PARIS -- Ana Ivanovic won the French Open in 2008 at age 20, a victory that also vaulted her to the world No. 1 ranking. She stayed there just nine weeks and then her career took a steep decline. She didn't win a single tournament in 2009 and within another year, her ranking fell as low as No. 65. Her confidence sank as well.
"It's a vicious circle,'' she told ESPN.com in 2010. "You just don't know where the beginning is, or the end, either.''
At age 27, Ivanovic is definitely not at the end. Or even near it. She finished 2014 ranked No. 5 (she is currently No. 7) and Tuesday she advanced to a Grand Slam semifinal for the first time since winning that 2008 title by beating Elina Svitolina 6-3, 6-2.
"I do remember the feeling [of winning a quarterfinal match], but obviously I'm just so thrilled,'' she said. "You can't take any victory for granted, let alone a quarterfinal. It's not every day that you reach that. It's been a long time. So I really am pleased. I know the feeling and the emotions, and also winning on Philippe Chatrier, it means a lot to me. I'm very humbled and very much appreciate all the hard work not only me but everyone around me puts [in] to be in this position.''
Ivanovic said she entered this tournament with no expectations that she would run this far. The question is: After seven years in the desert, can Ivanovic win the title here again?
"Serena is the favorite for sure, but Ana has the type of game that if she is playing well and executing on her forehand and the serve stands up, she can beat anyone," said ESPN analyst Darren Cahill, who has worked with Ivanovic. "She is playing with a great deal of confidence. The fact that she came in here a little under the radar and with lower expectations than normal took a little bit of pressure off her. It's just been one match, one day and she's handling everything extremely well."
Ivanovic's semifinal match is against Lucie Safarova, who beat Garbine Muguruza in the other quarterfinal Tuesday after upsetting Maria Sharapova the previous day. The two have played eight times, with Safarova holding a 5-3 edge, though Ivanovic won their most recent meeting in Tokyo last year. Ivanovic also beat Safarova here in 2008 en route to the championship.
"She had a great match against Maria yesterday,'' Ivanovic said. "She won Doha, beating Victoria Azarenka. ... Last year [at the French Open] I had a two-set loss to her. It's going to be tough matchup for me, so I really want to focus tomorrow. She's obviously lefty. She hits a really lot of balls back very heavy, very aggressive.''
After years of struggling with it, Ivanovic says that her serve is coming back, that she has learned about herself and her game plan. "You have to go back to basic and what feels natural for you,'' she said. "I have been really improving that area, and I feel now it's getting to where I want it to be.''
If Ivanovic can beat Safarova, she would play the survivor of the upper bracket in the final. Given that the players left are No.17 Sara Errani, No. 23 Timea Bacsinszky and unseeded Alison Van Uytvanck, the most likely opponent in the final would be No. 1 Serena Williams, the only other player seeded in the top eight left in the tournament. Ivanovic is 1-8 against Serena, including four straight losses since her one win in the round of 16 at the Australian Open last year. But Serena has not exactly been playing in top form here.
"The further in a tournament you play her, the tougher it gets,'' Ivanovic said. "She's obviously a great champion and we are happy to have someone like her in Open era. You know, she's very intimidating. Big serve, and that's not something we have in women's tennis. We see a lot of breaks. When you play her, you just know you have to hold your serve, and that creates a lot of pressure.''
Ivanovic says 2008 seems like both a different life and as if it were yesterday.
"There were so many expectations and so many exciting moments at that time in my career and my life in general,'' she said. "I feel like people around me were not as experienced. Of course, it was happening for first time for them, too. So I don't feel like I was guided really well, you know. So all of a sudden there was so much expectations and no one really knew how to handle it and the pressures and so on. ...
"All of a sudden, everything started changing. My coach wanted to change my playing style, and this one wanted -- I'm like, no. Why change something that worked and it worked for so long? There were little bits and pieces that didn't go my way.''
They are going her way now. For how long? We've waited a long time to find out.