Wed May 05 07:59am EDT
Two years ago, Ana Ivanovic was the second-ranked women's tennis player in the world. In one month she'd win her first Grand Slam and ascend to the top spot in the rankings, a perch she would occupy on and off for the rest of the summer. One year later, she'd be out of the top 10. Today she's No. 58 in the world.
The statistics related to Ivanovic's downfall are startling:
• Since reaching the semifinals in Brisbane earlier this year, she is 2-7
• Those two wins came against players ranked below No. 100.
• Ivanovic hasn't defeated any player ranked higher than No. 40 since beating Sam Stosur (No. 19) in the third round of Wimbledon last year.
• She's currently ranked behind players like Anabel Medina Garrigues, Melinda Czink and Polona Hercog. She's 23 spots behind Lucie Safarova, a fine player, but one who's made it further than the third round of a Grand Slam just twice in her career and has been ousted in the first round in 11 of 19 appearances.
• At the U.S. Open in 2008, Ivanovic became the first top seed to lose in the first round since 1973.
Injuries started Ivanovic down this path, and the pursuit of outside interests like modeling, maintaining a public relationship with golfer Adam Scott and all the combined pressures of being No. 1, looking great and keeping sponsors happy during the slump have pushed her along it. It doesn't help that she has the reputation of being a bit of a headcase and that some of the losses feel a little like her own self-fulfilling prophecies.
But after 20 months lost in the tennis wilderness, Ana looks like she could be on the comeback trail.
Since hiring Steffi Graf's former coach, Heinz Gunthardt, in Feburary, Ivanovic has shown some flashes of what made her a Grand Slam champ and top-ranked player in the world. She hadn't put it together for a whole match until this week in Rome, though. There, Ivanovic has won two matches, including one over No. 10 Victoria Azarenka. That win snapped Ivanovic's ten-match losing streak to players in the top 10. (The last time Ana had done that was in October of 2008 when she defeated No. 9 Vera Zvonareva in Linz. That's also the last tournament she won.)
On Wednesday, she'll play No. 6 Elena Dementieva. Ivanovic will be the heavy underdog but maybe -- just maybe -- she could continue her run in Italy. It's unlikely, but the fact that we're even discussing it is a good first step for Ana Ivanovic.