September 03, 2010
Patrick Mouratoglou is a world-renowned tennis coach who has worked with Marcos Baghdatis and Aravane Rezai. His French tennis academy is considered one of the top in the world. He'll provide commentary for Busted Racquet during the 2010 U.S. Open.
I've really liked the recent wins of Ana Ivanovic in the first two rounds of the U.S. Open. Knowing how much the young Serbian has struggled lately, I'm sure she's deeply enjoying to find herself back playing the style of tennis that had led her to the No. 1 ranking in the sport.
Don't get too enthusiastic yet though. Ana is still recovering. She's still facing a long road considering how much she had totally lost all her confidence. Two years of doubts creep in when you go from No. 1 to No. 80 in the world. But, more than the ranking, it's the loss of confidence that has led to huge pressures and caused her to lose all her mental toughness. She made some bad choices, because fear is one of the worst advisors. Fear makes you search for miracles, makes you think short-term and makes you wait for the magic wand of a coach. Ana has indeed switched coaches many times in these past few years looking for a quick fix.
She didn't think she was calm enough to do it herself, so she was trying to find answers from the outside, to find help and someone who would unlock the mystery of all her issues. Each coach would come in with a project, with different technical viewpoints and a different speech. Ana would try to adjust and change, but every time she did she was becoming their player, not the player she used to be. She was in a dead end.
Then she decided to work with Heinz Gunthardt. This decision is the one that has allowed her to get her game back. Two years of searching led to this. This coach has the huge advantage of having worked for years with the great Steffi Graf. He has nothing more to prove and so can share his confidence with the Serbian. Adding that Ana's game style is kind of close to the German champion and it's a great match. Heinz is going to use those similarities in order to make Ana find a way to maximize her abilities.
Ivanovic has built her game around a big serve, a strong forehand hit at maximum speed and footwork that allows her to turn around her backhand. When doubts came into her game, she lost all her weapons. The first task of the Swiss coach was to make her trust her serve again. And we can see that today it's working pretty well because she's getting more first serves in with a sufficient speed and that, in turn, helps her to get many winners and aces. And, most important, that serve gives her the chance to be aggressive as early as the second shot of the point. The only issue remaining is her toss though, it's still really unsteady and each time she has to adjust to a different one. This is still not solved.
Furthermore, Ana's game needs excellent footwork. She tries to be very punchy on the first two steps so she can turn around her backhand to use a forehand. When she's playing her groundstrokes in that position, the forehand becomes even more efficient, exactly like Steffi in her prime. Ana's forehand remains her biggest strength. She needed to loosen a bit on the motion so she could hit the ball cleaner. Once this work is done, Ana can hit as hard as she wants to and then she becomes dangerous again.
Her backhand has always been the weak part of her game. She doesn't really trust that shot because she lacks feeling and timing. She often plays open-stance backhands, with body weight backwards and then she uses the torso to turn than the hand to give speed to the ball. That explains the lack of feeling. Her and Gunthardt have worked on this. Ana is now using the court much better with this shot so she makes her opponent play in a specific zone where she can force them to hit to her forehand.
With the technical aspects improved, Ana needed confidence. This comes in a snap one day. You don't expect it, you don't know when or where it will come, but one day it clicks. You work daily to put your game into shape but in competition it doesn't work because with pressure everything that isn't fully acquired can disappear. And then one day when you're totally not waiting for it, everything falls into place. In Cincinnati, Ana - still in doubt - battled with Victoria Azarenka. She was behind a set and a break and couldn't find any solution. And then cme the miracle: She won the second set in a tiebreak and her game began finding its way again. The following matches have confirmed it. Here in New York she's making a really strong start. She's played two great matches and finally looks pleased to be on the court. She'll play against Razzano in the third round on Friday in order to get a chance to play in the match she's been waiting for, against Kim Clijsters for a spot in the quarterfinals where she'd have nothing to lose.