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I Can't Go on, I Must Go on. . . 11/11/2008 - 4:46 PM


by Pete Bodo

That headline expresses how I'm feeling about the ATP and WTA now, with just a handful of days left in the season. Is Shanghai important? Sure. Will the winner take a significant advantage into 2009 or has the Tennis Masters Cup become some sort of cipher? Got me. I confess that at this point I'm just eager for it all to end, although it's funny how often the ending yields more thought-provoking conclusions that we expect as we slog through those final yards and inches. On the men's side, the tennis year is like a tight, well-plotted movie that suddenly gets bogged down in a seemingly interminable ending that introduces a variety of new themes and characters - yet we all know that there won't  be a last-minute plot twist to significantly re-shape our view of 2008. Or so it seems, at the moment.

The women are done, so what does Doha tell us? Among other things, that the changing of a guard in tennis isn't always as cleanly orchestrated and crisply executed as it is at, say, Buckingham Palace.  I saw a lot of rifles dropped, hats flying, and women bumping into each other as they tried to follow the choreography. In the late stages, I found myself thinking a lot about Venus Williams. When the dust finally settled, my thoughts turned to Ana Ivanovic.

Overall, the message seems to be that 2009 is up for grabs: Discount either Williams sister at your peril, Jelena Jankovic still hasn't summited at a Grand Slam event, and Ana Ivanovic leaves more questions asked than answered because of the way she finished the year. And then there's (presumably) healthy and eager Maria Sharapova. But while Jankovic was the firm thread that ran through most of the year, Ivanovic is a more interesting case. I think she's bumped her head on the ceiling of the game and she's well on her way to coming up against something Pete Sampras had to deal with back around 1992, and described this way:

If you want to get to be no. 1 and stay no. 1, you have to get used to living with that target on your back. That's a big decision, because you can have a good life in the Top 10 - eat in the best restaurants, play golf on the best courses in the world, make a lot of money, go deep at tournaments maybe even win a major now and then. . . all without dealing with a whole lot of pressure.Basically, you can hide and have a very good life. The other way is to look at that top ranking and say, "I want this, and I want to hold onto it for all I'm worth, and I'm willing to take the pressure and make all the sacrifices and live my life with that target on my back."

Okay, let's remember that Pete Sampras didn't have that conversation with himself six or seven months after his breakout win at the US Open of 1990. For a good two years, Sampras treaded water, tried to deal with his new notoriety and an improved lifestyle, and wasn't at all convinced that he wanted to don that garment with the bullseye sewn on the back. Slowly, though, he took stock of himself, he took stock of the competition, he took stock of expectations - his own, and those of the world-at-large. Only after that period of drift did he realize that he needed to have that conversation with himself, because he finally understood, firsthand, what was at stake and the issues in play. Deciding that it was worth living with a target on his back was his personal Rubicon, and it shaped the rest of his career. He accepted the garment, and in so doing he laid the foundation for the glories that ensued.

Ana A parallel between Pete Sampras and Ana Ivanovic only goes so far, partly because of the tremendous difference between men's and women's tennis. And let's face it, even on her best day, Ivanovic isn't clearly superior to any number of her rivals in any number of key areas that can determine success or failure. In fact, for her to become a player as dominant as, say, Justine Henin, will demand an extraordinary competitive appetite. It will also take Spartan discipline (something she seems willing to adopt) and unwavering focus.

But other players with less than dazzling physical attributes (a la Venus Williams) or skills (Justine Henin) have taken on those burdens and flourished. In fact, Ivanovic is a present-day version of one of them, Chris Evert. The parallels between them are striking. Both of them are conservative personalities who conformed to the "traditional" model - it's an extraordinary comment on what might be called a general globalization that Ivanovic emerged from Serbia (via Switzerland) so, well, smoothly finished, and seemingly in touch with the mainstream tennis gestalt.

As well, Ivanovic's game is economical, precise, and clean in the same way that Evert's was, and she compensates for a lack of power or explosive ability with good anticipation a shrewd grasp of strategy. Evert showed how far steady nerves, the ability to produce her best shots under the most withering pressure, and recognizing her own strengths and weaknesses can take a player. It's the same territory Ivanovic will have to work, and up until the second half of the year, she did the job well.

Outwardly, Ivanovic seems just as cool and unflappable Evert. But she has a sunnier disposition, and seems to lack the cold calculation of which Evert, ever a realist, was a master. I've watched Ivanovic and sometimes felt that her internal dials and pressure gauges were spinning madly and leaping from the green to the red zone more often than she let on. She certainly played nervous, insecure tennis at various times this summer, and Evert almost never did.

Evert was, by any standard, an extraordinary competitor from the moment she made her debut at age 16 at the US Open. At the time (1972), pro women's tennis was a relatively new entity, and the fact that a 16-year old could reach the semifinals at the US national championships was, simply, startling. That worked to Evert's advantage: 23 and 25 year olds wanted to vomit when they considered that, after all the time they'd put into developing their games, they go out and get thrashed by a 16-year old, gum-chewing, gold-hoop earring wearing high school student.

Evert helped shape the future of pro tennis by proving that tennis was just as much a girl's game as one that belonged to mature women. And by the time she retired from the game, the emergence of 16-and-under women players on the WTA tour hardly raised an eyebrow. That also meant that 16-year olds no longer had that powerful intimidation factor to go along with their 16-year old world view - a view both narrow and lethal to opponents. A kid of that age fears nothing, has no idea of the stakes for which she is playing, or the long-term implications of success or failure. A 16-year old tennis player personifies the homily that ignorance is bliss.

And let's remember that the number of high-quality players of every age and the general level of skill, training and coaching has gone through the roof since Evert made her debut. I don't know about you, but I find it hard to imagine that any 15 or 16 year old could pop onto the WTA tour these days and create the kind of havoc once wrought by Evert, Tracy Austin, Jennifer Capriati or Monica Seles. Given the cast of characters at the top of women's tennis, I'm inclined to think the tour has gone full circle; it's what it was supposed to be at the outset, when a bunch of mature, seasoned pioneers established the Virginia Slims circuit - a women's game.

So I'm willing to adopt a wait-and-see attitude, and believe that at this stage it's easier to underestimate Ivanovic than to overrate her. She's the forgotten player of 2008.  Her late-season swoon certainly exposed some chinks in the mental armor. Injuries also played a part in her unraveling, and I was a little surprised by that. After spending some time with Ivanovic and her team in the late winter, I felt that her approach was extremely professional and surprisingly geared to the long term (she seemed to devote more time to general fitness and strengthening regimens than to short-term technical or strategic objectives). I think that approach will pay off in the long term, because mental and emotional stability lie at the end of the road for the physically disciplined.

Here's an interesting question for you: whose  year would you rather have - Ivanovic or Jankovic's? In tennis, it's always easier to be the hunter than the hunted, and Ivanovic became the hunted when she won at Roland Garros. A sudden role reversal can throw a player for a loop and leave her in something like a state of shock. Although Jankovic secured the year-end no. 1 spot, I don't think she'll make that transition from predator to prey until she wins a major. Playing with a lot to gain is much easier than playing with a lot to lose; we've seen the process play out over and over through the years.

The resurgence of the old-guard in the WTA, in the form of Venus and Serena Williams, the rehabilitation of Elena Dementieva and Dinara Safina, and the uncertainty surrounding Maria Sharapova all loom as obstacles for Jankovic and Ivanovic, the two big winners of 2008. And that will make for an interesting 2009.

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Posted by Arun 11/11/2008 at 05:08 PM

"So I'm willing to adopt a wait-and-see attitude, and believe that at this stage it's easier to underestimate Ivanovic than to overrate her. She's the forgotten player of 2008."

Not her fan (yet) - but that's really true. On the other hand, she has seen both her best and the worst (that could happen to her after a meteoric rise) in the same season - this could work to her advantage to get over this half_sophomoric_slump. With so many points to gain after the clay-court season she might go on to have a more successful 2009.

Posted by naughty T, every day is like Sunday. 11/11/2008 at 05:16 PM

could i really be the first?

Posted by naughty T, every day is like Sunday. 11/11/2008 at 05:22 PM

oh Arun you old dog.
very nice post Pete. I am so in two minds about all of the new crop of players. It is astounding to me that it is still the Williams sisters that you just can't count out after all these years.
I guess I am one of those sad cases that Justine finds her inner Hingis and makes a comeback and shows the world what real womens tennis is again.

Posted by naughty T, every day is like Sunday. 11/11/2008 at 05:23 PM

aaaah .. that hopes Justine etc.
Vodka is a good drink.

Posted by Kumar 11/11/2008 at 05:34 PM

'Less than dazzling skills a la Henin...', her game is based on 'economy, precision, she makes up for a lack of power with anticipation'... Really, I marvel at these analyses. Ivanovic is a modern power player, no question. She doesn't have the feel of Henin or even her supposed ancestor, Evert. Yes, she tries very hard, but she remains a peer of the Williamses and Sharapovas. And Henin had game, FYI.

Posted by Markic 11/11/2008 at 05:38 PM

Intriguing post Pete. I think that perhaps the sister of no mercy's extremely spartan lifestyle, where her whole mental approach was underpinned by the sacrifices she had made to get to the top, and which ultimately finished her off, might also have taken their toll on the up-and-comers. I think the vacuum at the top is partly because nobody is quite prepared yet to give up the photo shoots, parties and "just being a normal girl" as Jankovic and Sharapova so absurdly put it.

I agree with you about Evert and Ivanovic's demeanour - the way Ana bites her lip at times of crisis is her version of the nose-scruch Chris used to do - but Ana's game is way more aggressive, and made for attacking, bludgeoning tennis. I like the way despite her accentuated, self-conscious femininity, her game is really almost a guy's, as you've said previously. When she's torching serves, lashing her forehand and barreling up to the net, where she has great volleys, I'm not sure anybody except serena and venus can go with her.

I wonder what Vaidisova will do next year. Have Radek's baby?

Posted by Arun 11/11/2008 at 05:56 PM

nT: Sorry for being the party blooper. :)
And I agree with EVERYTHING you said in your 5:22!

Posted by Bismarck 11/11/2008 at 06:00 PM

*As well, Ivanovic's game is economical, precise, and clean in the same way that Evert's was, and she compensates for a lack of power or explosive ability with good anticipation a shrewd grasp of strategy.*

hmm ... Pete,
maybe i´m misreading you but i don´t think ana lacks *power*.
and not too sure about that strategy part either as of now.

but i certainly agree that her best time is yet to come. she´s an unfinished, almost raw product still and her slam success this year could be called an accident (a good one of course for her ;)).
i expect her 2009 season or even more her 2010 season to give us a clearer picture what she is (or isn´t) capable of doing, what her "ceiling" is gonna look like.

Posted by Master Ace 11/11/2008 at 06:04 PM

Ana Ivanovic was probably the player of the year in the first half winning the French Open and Indian Wells along with a finalist apperarance at the Australian Open.

One of the big questions or concerns about Ana is her consistency. She has won 8 titles(French Open 2008 and Tier I titles at 2008 Indian Wells, 2007 Berlin, 2006 Montreal). Only tournament,after she won a title, that she made it to the QF or better was the finals at the French Open in 2007 after she won Berlin.

The only place that Ana,IMO, was forgotten was in the winners circle. Her struggles after the French Open was a constant issue in the tennis world. Some people were saying that she did not handle winning her first Slam and reaching number 1. One thing she has going for her, as people pointed out, is a lot of players who win their first Slam do not win their second one for a few years and other players never win a 2nd one so time is on her side as she just turned 21.

Posted by Takver 11/11/2008 at 07:07 PM

I've never associated Ana

Posted by Takver 11/11/2008 at 07:24 PM

Sorry. I'll start again...

Ana may not play the lights-out style of tennis that the Williams sisters or Sharapova play, but I've never associated her with a lack of power, especially with her power off the forehand wing. Her post-RG triumph has revealed an over-reliance on power, coupled with a collapse in her footwork and a deer-in-the-headlights lack of strategy when she can't hit her opponents off the court. It's obvious that she needs to regroup her game.

I agree though that the it's too easy to write off players when they have a lull. The jury is still out on what type of player she is going to become and whether or not she can deal with the pressures of being at the top.

Posted by tina 11/11/2008 at 07:36 PM

I could never compare Ivanovic with Evert. As an 8-year-old I found the teenage Evert's all-business cool a bit baffling, much as I idolized her. But Ana is a groovy young lady who's just so darn cheerful.

I suppose if I could choose between their seasons, I'd go with Ana's. Because it's probably preferable to have that off your back (we're all waiting for Jankovic to do same) and maybe it's just me, but after watching tennis for about 3 decades, there are plenty of year-end number 1s I've forgotten, but I don't usually forget slam trophy holders. Maybe that's just about photographs. But even if Ana never attains the top ranking again, she has that Slam nobody can take from her.

Posted by tina 11/11/2008 at 07:40 PM

However, if someone asked me to choose whose boyfriend I'd rather be with, I'd have to go with Jelena's. Hott Sauce has got nothing on any of the waterpolo players from Montenegro.

Posted by Tennis Fan 11/11/2008 at 07:45 PM

"As well, Ivanovic's game is economical, precise, and clean in the same way that Evert's was, and she compensates for a lack of power or explosive ability with good anticipation a shrewd grasp of strategy. Evert showed how far steady nerves, the ability to produce her best shots under the most withering pressure, and recognizing her own strengths and weaknesses can take a player."

This is more like Jankovic than Ivanovic. In fact even Lindsay Davenport disagrees with you. This is what she said during the Jankovic/Ivanovic match at YEC:

"I would think that JJ has a detailed game plan of what she wants to do, where she wants to be in points, what’s going well for her.

To me, Ivanovic, seems like the player who plays more on instinct. Goes out there, game plan seems pretty much the same in every match. I’m going to run around and try to hit the forehand as hard as I can. I’m going to hope not to make errors. It doesn’t particularly seem like she’s ever aiming or to breakdown a person’s game. It’s all about how she plays and how she wants to play on the match."

Whose year would you rather have - Ivanovic or Jankovic's?

Of course the ultimate goal is to win a slam, so in that respect, you would want a Sharapova at the AO, a Ivanovic at the FO, a Venus at Wimbledon. a Serena at the USO and a Jankovic at all other times, especially at the end, kind of season.

Could this season prove to be the Ivanovic as Sveta season?

Lindsay Davenport played Ivanovic once at Miami in 2008 and destroyed her. Here is what she said:

"I played her for the first and only time in March this year and was actually quit surprised. I felt like her backhand was not very solid, and normally when you have a player that has a two-handed backhand, you normally find more weakness in their forehand. Now she will make a lot of errors off that forehand wing. But, I felt, I had a big reprieve going to the backhand. She hits it kind of late and goes up the line most of the time. She has a very hard time of getting off the ball, going cross court, from her backhand to an opponent’s backhand."

The backhand is Ivanovic's Achilles heel. All the good players, and Julie Coin, will exploit this weakness. Unless Ivanovic goes back to square one and relearns this stroke it seems her fortunes will continued to be the same, way up or way down.

Jankovic, on the other hand, grows in conifidence and glee with every milestone which propells her to the next. And she has proved that she can and will win tournaments back to back with no rest in between. With the 2009 schedule this puts her in the driver's seat. Her technical skills are almost flawless. While she is know for her backhand, her forehand is very good also. The only thing I think she lacks is enough upper body strength to help on her serve and to put points away quicker. This is more easily obtained than the ability to hit shots under pressure.

In that measure, I would rather be Jankovic than Ivanovic.

I think Jankovic has a big target on her back, especially from Venus, Serena and Ivanovic - now.

Posted by Samantha Elin 11/11/2008 at 07:50 PM

I like Ana and I think she's one of the sweetest, most unassuming, and nicest players on the tour. I love the fact that she's not a drama queen, or a desperate attention seeker who trash talks her opponents. She's the complete opposite of her countrywoman and that is a breath of fresh air. I have never heard her say anything bad about another player. I wish her the best and hope she can get her game together. People who criticize her, forget that she won the most important thing, a grandslam and nobody can take that from her. I believe that when she plays her best, she's the best Serbian player. Of course, she's no Justine, but who is. I believe that with her good serve and power, she has the potential to win additional slams. Good luck to her. She's a beautiful grandslam champion. Go Caroline, Scandinavia's #1!

Posted by Samantha Elin 11/11/2008 at 07:52 PM

Also, I feel it's unfair to Ana to put her in the same category has Jankovic. She's a GS winner. Go Caroline!

Posted by C Note 11/11/2008 at 07:53 PM

Hey Pete,

Thanks for a very interesting and fair post on my girl. I'm with you 100%. I've been lamenting people's willingness to completely forget the first half that Ana had this year. The kid has the game, she just needs to flick that switch in her head. She's a fantastic fighter but there's a difference between fighting for something (hunting) and then there's fighting against something (hunted). Ana clearly relishes the former and buckles under the latter right now. The minute she thinks something is slipping away from her, you can see her start to fight herself. She needs to get a bit of that pissed off "how dare you think you can beat me" mindset that Serena, Venus, and Maria have. Until she gets that, she won't legitimately crack into that upper echelon of "dangerous" players and she'll be tagged as Kimmy Clijsters 2.0.

Posted by sblily 11/11/2008 at 07:56 PM

I think that perhaps the sister of no mercy's extremely spartan lifestyle, where her whole mental approach was underpinned by the sacrifices she had made to get to the top, and which ultimately finished her off, might also have taken their toll on the up-and-comers.
Interesting take, Markic. Hadn't thought of the musical chairs of #1 in the '08 WTA as part of a collective Henin-induced hangover . . .

But I'm a little disturbed by you casually tossing out that image of a baby Radek. (When I imagine ppl I 'know' as kids, I always imagine them with the same face, just on a smaller body . . . so now, I'm imagining baby Worm swaddled in a baby blanket)

Posted by Azhdaja 11/11/2008 at 07:56 PM

The girl is too hot to be able to stay focused at the top all the time.
She has all what it takes to be great champ, but, does she really want it?
With 21 years of age, with $21million on the account, with a #1 already achieved, what else would she be looking for???

1. To live and work like crazy just to satisfy her fans or relatives by winning 10GS?

2. To live and work like crazy just to satisfy her fans or relatives by sitting at the top for consecutive 4-5 years??

Working like a bastard and dedicating soo much, just to make happy some other people?? I don't think so. I wouldn't. Tennis is fine, glory is good too, but, the tennis is there to help the life and not opposite. One need not to live just to play and win all the time.

If the girl doesn't care for being on the top for long time, or winning soo many titles, then she is not gonna do it.. And we better say: Ana, good bye. We'll remember you as very successful and attractive, young and smart. Sometimes in the future someone (Bodo?) might write an article just to remember and remind people of who Ana was upon a time in the past.

That's it.

Posted by pm 11/11/2008 at 07:58 PM

As many people have said, I don't see Ivanovic having a lack of power. I also don't see her having better than average strategic skills.

I also see no resemblance on any dimension whatsoever with Chris Evert. In fact, when she is on, she reminds me of Mary Pierce (when she was on). She plays the same "Big Babe" tennis with more consistency and a commendable lack of dramatics.

Given her strengths (height, serve, forehand) and weaknesses (backhand, mobility, lack of court smarts), my prediction is that she will remain a streaky player for the better part of her career.

Posted by tina 11/11/2008 at 08:01 PM

good god - no need to go elegiac, she's still an active player!

Posted by Samantha Elin 11/11/2008 at 08:04 PM

Forgot to add, if I had a choice of Ana's year or Jankovic's? This is too easy, Ana's year. To me, it's not even close, the slams are EVERYTHING. Go Caroline, Scandinavia's #1!

Posted by Azhdaja 11/11/2008 at 08:15 PM

whose year would I rather have - Ivanovic or Jankovic's?

Jankovic's, without hesitation. Why?

1. She is YE #1. That comes once a year only. And it happened to the less number of players than GS winners!!! So, more rare thing to be. Therefore more valuable.

2. JJ has better and more mature play. (With 23 Ana might surpass JJ, but this is about 2008). That automatically means more weaponry and better 2009 outlook.

3. JJ has a tools to use to win a GS during the next season. And there are 4 opportunities for that. Had she got any she's got it. It would be a big suprise (and disappointment) if JJ doesn't get any GS next season.

4. JJ is sitting at the top for longer than Ana was (sitting). And seems like she is gonna be sitting there for lil longer.

5. JJ is more consistant and more steady by playing lot.

6. JJ is laughing during the rally while chasing the ball in the GS final!! This is something to be recorded as absolutelly new in the tennis game ever. I found this to be a huge asset/gift.

Ana might be more attractive and desired by millions out there, but isn't it better to be desired (and acqured!) by the Right One than by millions not Right ones??/ lol

JJ wins over AI at almost all aspects.

Posted by Samantha Elin 11/11/2008 at 08:17 PM

You know what is funny about this year. At the start, people were talking about how this year would be a changing of the guard. That there would be new and younger player's emerging. When you really look at this year, the old guard of the Williamses have stayed on top. This was the best year for the Willamses and the reason for this is that Justine retired. She was the biggest danger to the Williamses reign.

Posted by C Note 11/11/2008 at 08:20 PM

Good point, Samantha Elin. I think people were hoping for a more definitive and emphatic changing of the guard, but if you step back and look at it, the Williamses did reassert their dominance this year.

Posted by Christopher 11/11/2008 at 08:35 PM

"But other players with less than dazzling physical attributes (a la Venus Williams) or skills (Justine Henin) have taken on those burdens and flourished."

Pete, did you mean this the other way around? Venus hardly seems to be missing "dazzling physical attributes" (at least compared to anyone else other than Serena), while Justine is one of the shortest champions of her caliber in some time. And Justine seems to have magnificent skills while Venus is more hit or miss in that department (needless to say, I mean this also in hugely relative way).

Posted by Master Ace 11/11/2008 at 08:44 PM

Samantha and C Note,
Besides the Williams returning to the top and being more fearful than normal, Elena Dementieva and Nadia Petrova have remerged also. Will Elena and Nadia win Slams? No, but their results have been consistent.

Posted by tommy 11/11/2008 at 08:48 PM

I'm not sure which year I'd rather have. Ana seemed to fall apart after the FO and Jelena seemed to get better and better all year. Jankovic is a great athlete with tremendous stamina. Ana is a tall basher with no consistency.
Unless Sharapova can stay healthy, who else on the tour can give Jankovic a run for #1? She's almost 1,000 in the lead. Sharapova seemed well on her way to a great year in 2008, but I'm not convinced that right shoulder will hold up for a full year.

Posted by great gams 11/11/2008 at 08:54 PM

whose year would i rather have?

a question along a similar line might be, whose career would i rather have: Lindsay Davenport's or Venus Williams. Lindsay finished YE number 1 on several occasions but won far fewer slams. (while Venus, of course, is still adding to her tally.) Venus has never finished year end number one. but it's no contest as far as i'm concerned. Venus' career will be remembered well beyond Lindsay's.

a similar answer to the first question, then: Ana, hands down....

Posted by Pspace 11/11/2008 at 08:58 PM

The Evert-Ivanovic analogy doesn't work for me:

1. Evert was the quintessential moonballer. Ana plays a lot more flat.

2. Can you ever imagine Evert in a nice cutesy giggly picture like the one above?

3. Mental differences as noted

4. Blonde-Brunette

5. Jimbo-Tabasco!

Need I go on :).

Posted by Andrew Miller 11/11/2008 at 08:58 PM

Whose year? Ivanovic's. She's in the history books, signed sealed and delivered. Jankovic may never be a grand slam winner at the singles level. She might, but she might not (whereas with Henin, everyone knew the little one COULD and WOULD make a big dent in women's tennis). Then again, if Iva Majoli could...then Jankovic certainly SHOULD.

I think that Pete Bodo meant that Venus had UNREAL physical talents, Henin UNREAL tennis skills, and that Ivanovic is more in the tennis playing mode of Evert, style wise: not amazing physical nor skill gifts, just all around solid, with the exception that Ivanovic has a hail of a serve. It's a shot and a half (a great shot).

Posted by Syd 11/11/2008 at 09:11 PM

Great post Pete, and a welcome subject. Totally agree with your assessment that Jankovic was the firm thread that ran through 2009. Many seem to underestimate that achievement.

Ivanovic is an interesting case, but for all the wrong reasons. I'm going to add my voice to the choir and say that Ivanovic does not lack for power. Nor is she "outwardly cool." On the contrary she has frequently exhibited "deer in the headlights syndrome" in the latter half of the season. The way she celebrates after winning even one point suggests to me that she's an extremely nervous individual who is unsure of her abilities. It's possible that this could turn around with a fresh start in 2009 and then it'll get really interesting.

Posted by Gav 11/11/2008 at 09:17 PM

The Evert-Ivanovic analogy does not quite work for me either.. I don't see how their games can be similar.. and Ana definitely doesn't lack power. Anyone who can get such a powerfull forehand out of that Yonex racquet of hers has a hell lot of power. Ana also does have a stroke that is better than any other in the game: her forehand. There is no better weapon to finish off points than her forehand. The problem is: it's inconsistent, as all of her game. In my opinion that is because of her extreme difficulty to mantain her focus during a match or even during a game. Ivanovic loses focus as fast as a F1 car goes trhough the finishing line. That is so clear to me whatching any of her matches.. that's why she can be so streaky even during games, let alone tournaments and seasons. Ana is strong mentally, though in these slump that was her biggest weakness. 7 of her last 9 losses followed the exact same pattern: tight 3 setters that she had endless chances of winning, missed them all and handed the opponent the win with plenty of unforced errors out of frustration and discontrol. She just couldn't make that final mental push to take the win. That can be because all that happened to her this season (slam, n1, injuries) got to her head and she got burned out.. What worries me is that her team seems to be playing it down. Ana needs to have some serious work sessions on her mental game, otherwise I don't expect her to be any better any time soon. She needs to sort out her focus problem to become more steady and more consistent. I hope she stops avoinding this issue and faces it as soon as posible. Even if it doesn't show right away, such work will help her in the long term.

Posted by Gav 11/11/2008 at 09:34 PM

uff.. so many english mistakes! Sorry about that, but typing and thinking fast doesn't help I guess...

Still about Ana..

Eric Van Harpen (spelling?) has stated that Ana is the most obssessed with improving, determined to be the best as she can player he has ever worked with. That behind the genuine sweetness and niceness there is an extremely competitive person. That can help her out as she will probably be persistent in her quest for her goals.

Sven Groeneveld surprised me some time ago when, in an interview, he said that Ana's backhand was a more polished shot and it was her forehand that could still improve a lot. Ana's forehand is an amazing shot (when on), and her backhand one of her biggest weakness. I surely hope that he does work to improve her backhand as she needs it. She also should learn to try to break down her opponents game when her own is faultering. Like Davenport said while commentating the YECs, Ana always seems to be playing her own game without really having a particular strategy to that particular opponent. Also, stopping and thinking what to do when things aren't going her way, instead of growing desperate and bashing the ball as hard as she can will help. She has variety of shots, needs to learn when to use it.

One thing that I've noticed also is that her serve also broke down completely during the slump. She has a great serve, and sometimes she was slicing it almost like Dementieva. I don't know if that is fatigue related or what.. but Ana needs to get that amazing serve of hers back.

All in all.. Ivanovic is probably the most raw player in the top 10. Every stroke can be polished and improved. Her court sense, foot work and strategic abilities have tons of space for improvement. If she keeps her head together, grows out of her fear for the headlights, continues committed to improving her game and determined to reach her goals, she will definitely have a very bright future ahead of her. She is a learner of the game, and seems to want it, so let's wait and see.. I certainly expect good things from her in the future, even if it takes a while..

Posted by Al 11/11/2008 at 09:35 PM

To be honest , I found the comparisons between Evert and Ivanovic quite strange .
If its the feminity that drives that I dont necessarily disagree but thats about it .

"As well, Ivanovic's game is economical, precise, and clean in the same way that Evert's was, and she compensates for a lack of power or explosive ability with good anticipation a shrewd grasp of strategy"

I dont know where did that observation came from .

Posted by lover04 11/11/2008 at 10:00 PM

ana its no way one of my faves , i fihd her hot and sweet but i just dont like her , but sayin that :
i think she has alot os room to improve and i found her the most talented player in the top 10 right now , she has the best forehand , her backhand its not thaT bad that people think , her serve its huge and her movement its not good for she can reach alot of balls back when shes one, her volleys are good and she almost always come back or something ,
if she knows how to use that variety she defenili can be a top gun but i think the only thing she really lacks its that killing intint of a champion wich in my point of view can be determinating in a whole carer ,
for example, im a maria fan but i recognise that ana has more talent that masha but masha has won 3 slams cause her killing insctin ,
anyway hope ana improves and maria comes back stronger than ever just like this year


Posted by GrandChelem 11/11/2008 at 10:18 PM

Justine retired too soon. The WTA is in serious need of a true dominating force, of a genuine and consistant champion like Justine Henin was during the last few years.
The WTA needs a player like the Federer of 2-3 years ago winning 90% of his matches, i.e. like the sublime Justine of last year with a winning percentage over 94%. This is what makes the sport interesting. Yes, the Serbs are entertaining, the Williams sisters can still win Slams, the Russians seem to play musical chair in the Top 10 rankings, but where is the consistency?
Just a reminder: following her win in Antwerp at the beginning of 2008, Justine Henin had increased her domination as the No. 1 in the WTA rankings with a whopping 6830 points. The No. 2 player, Kuznetsova, stood a huge 3070 points behind. The number of points that separated Justine and the No. 2 player was the equivalent to the difference between No. 2 and No. 41! This is the kind of exceptional achievement that makes the sport worth watching.
I feel that, along with Federer, Henin is the most exciting tennis player to have graced the courts in recent years. I, like many, still truly miss her.

Posted by Carrie 11/12/2008 at 12:21 AM

Like Christopher I am wondering about this statement

*"But other players with less than dazzling physical attributes (a la Venus Williams) or skills (Justine Henin) have taken on those burdens and flourished."*

Andrew Miller- maybe you have it right. Because I am scratching my head at saying Henin does not have good skills or Venus does not have good physical attributes.

Posted by J-Block 11/12/2008 at 12:25 AM

I'd take Jankovic's season, game, and prospects for next year over Ivanovic. Right now, JJ is for me a favorite to make the semis at three slams and the favorite to win roland garros. I fully expect her to cement her grip on the number one ranking in 2009. Right now she can compete for titles everywhere but on grass.
I would be willing to bet that JJ is the year end #1 in 2009 by a bigger margin than the men's #1.

Posted by Christopher 11/12/2008 at 12:45 AM

"1. Evert was the quintessential moonballer. Ana plays a lot more flat."

I don't think this is really correct. Evert hit a very flat ball (who didn't in the women's game in those years) and she certainly was no "moonballer." Andrea Jaeger, yes, but not Chrissie.

Posted by crazyone 11/12/2008 at 12:50 AM

Carrie and Christopher: I think Pete's language is a bit unclear but he's using Venus as the example of a player with dazzling physical attributes and Henin as the example of the player with dazzling skills.

...Ivanovic possesses neither the dazzling physical attributes of a Venus Williams nor the exemplary skill of a Justine Henin.

Posted by crazyone 11/12/2008 at 12:50 AM

BTW, I'd rather be the one hitting backhand slice passing shots, so I'll take Ivanovic's season.

Posted by tina 11/12/2008 at 07:35 AM

Christopher - whoever it was that put moonball in the same sentence as Evert likely forgot how completely different the game was with the outmoded equipment. And Chris never hit with the kind of power we're used to seeing now - so maybe it just looks like moonballing? Because you're right - that Evert ball was flat.

Pete: you've been edited by crazyone. good job crazy, reads better/

Posted by Tennis Observer 11/12/2008 at 08:10 AM

Ivanovic has only Plan A. If it doesn't work she just tries harder.

Posted by Slice-n-Dice 11/12/2008 at 09:33 AM

I really enjoyed and took a lot away from this latest post, Pete. You raise a lot of god questions and make even more astute observations about the pro game and the women's game, in particular.

I was at Orange Lawn in 1972, just a month before Chris Evert's debut semifinal berth and the U.S. Open, and watched her ease through the field of larger, older (more seasoned) players. In the final, she beat the giant of her day - Bette Stove of The Netherlands - a fitting finish and a portent of the great things that would emanate from Evert's racquet. I recall, watching Chrissie that weekend, that she seemed to have ice in her veins. Nothing upset her. The young do have the advantage of ignorance.

I agree that Ivanovic must learn to accept having a target on her back - provided she's fortunate enough to seize the mantle again. But I also sense in her a vulnerability in her self-esteem (one could call it lack of confidence, but that's not quite it, exactly) and a sensitivity that may also be keeping her from getting to the top and remaining there. She plays with such nervousness in the big moments, and that was the charge against her before she won the French. I suspect this basic tendency has changed with the earning of her first Slam title. Novotna suffered from the same malady, as perhaps did Mandlikova, two great players who might have risen much higher than they did were it not for some inner failing.

But I also would not downplay the importance of injury in the performances of our best athletes, particularly as the season wears on and fatigue - both mental and physical - begin to show. Ivanovic's thumb injury could be one of those things that wreaks havoc on her confidence, and it may take some time for her to fully recover mentally from that injury and the damage it has done to her stroke mechanics, her standing, and her confidence.

I was saying the same about Federer back in the spring, as he clearly continued to struggle with the lingering effects of mononucleosis. It is only recently that we have heard from Roger's trainer and from Roger himself to be able to truly put that illness in its proper context. It forced Roger to completely alter his February training routine and schedule, and we all know how precise and disciplined Roger is about his routines and schedules. And we now know that he was dealing with it throughout the spring clay-court and well into the summer hard-court campaigns.

I still see great things ahead for Ivanovic, but she'll have to learn how to put everything aside but the fight. And she'll have to decide whether she really wants to be the prey, and commit to always staying one step ahead of her pursuers.

Posted by Todd and in Charge 11/12/2008 at 09:39 AM

Interesting post, I do agree that these players need some kind of break.

But purely in terms of tennis, I'm enjoying watching these matches and I have gotten a kick out of several of them, regardless of who has limped their way onto the court, the relative effort level of those involved, or even whether the matches "mean" anything in the short or long run.

Posted by Christopher 11/12/2008 at 09:40 AM

Thanks, crazyone. That makes more sense.

Posted by Slice-n-Dice 11/12/2008 at 10:56 AM

Oh, I meant to add that I've ben happy to see Elena Dementieva rebound, although she seems to have passed her terrible service motion on to Ivanovic. Aaaggghhhhh!!!!!

Posted by unknown 11/12/2008 at 11:38 AM

" This was the best year for the Willamses and the reason for this is that Justine retired. She was the biggest danger to the Williamses reign." and Serena won slams when Henin was still an active player. Justine didn't stick around long enough,but I suspect she knew her short-term dominance was OVER. Can't say I'll miss her.

Posted by Ell 11/12/2008 at 11:54 AM

the two big winners of the Wta this year were Venus and Serena- and player of the year is between either Venus or Serena...

Posted by Ell 11/12/2008 at 12:01 PM

I'm happy with the Williams sisters dominance this year, and hopefully next year! :D Everyone else wants to ignore it.... looking towards Ivanovic and other less talented players...

p.s. the Williamses would bummelled Justine to the ground this year

Posted by Samantha Elin 11/12/2008 at 12:48 PM

Unknown, you're obviously a Justine hater which is sad because you're hating the most beautiful player to ever pick up a racket. How sad, but to each his own. Serena on Justine, "she gave me a lot of trouble. Sure, the Williamses would bummelled Queen Justine. NOBODY bummelled Justine, she was and will ALWAYS be the Queen of tennis. Go Justine!

Posted by unknown 11/12/2008 at 01:02 PM

I'm not a Justine hater. I love tennis. She's one of the best to play the sport. However, she is not the savior of the women’s game like so many of her fans like to make her out to be. IMO she's a quitter. She quit when the going got ruff. Not fond of quitters or many of the "quitters" fans. Sorry.

Posted by tommy 11/12/2008 at 02:02 PM

Justine quit, but she dominated last year. There was nothing near domination this year. The YE #1 didn't win a big title and no one won 2 majors.
Be glad you saw a player win 2 of the 3 majors she played, be YE #1 by a wide margin, and actually dominate the year on the WTA side.
We might not see that again in the near future.

Posted by Kaygee 11/12/2008 at 03:23 PM

"Be glad you saw a player win 2 of the 3 majors she played, be YE #1 by a wide margin, and actually dominate the year on the WTA side."

Tommy: Are you a recent tennis fan? Were you areound when Serena won all four majors? 3 in one year? And year end #1? Come on Tommy - get your facts straight before bestowing praises.

Henin came along when Serena and Venus had already paid their dues and done their domination. They had already gone through major injuries and were much older than Henin. With all her domination - Henin is still behind Serena with GS. If Henin was still around now she would be hiding behind her racket against the sisters and the other power hitters - she was getting near the point of not being able to handle big babe tennis anymore. She was a great player but too small to sustain it much longer. You could see from her last few matches that she was using every ounce of her body just to hang with the power girls - she would have fallen apart physically soon.

NB: the sisters are still around even with the power tennis they play - Henin could not handle that any longer.

Chris E. and Hingis could not gain any kind of success if they were playing now - they just could not handle these players - they are too small and limited.

Posted by Pete 11/12/2008 at 03:29 PM

CrazyOne, thank you for doing a good job explaining what I meant. And to whomever said Evert hit moonballs, I think you're confusing her with a young Tracy Austin - in general you'd be surprised at how hard and well and flat Chris hit the ball. There's a reason she was able to stay with Martina Navratilova (the female GOAT to many) for all those years etc.

Posted by tommy 11/12/2008 at 04:17 PM

I've been a tennis fan for a while. And I'm impressed with Justine beating Serena in 3 straight majors, beating Serena and Venus at the 2007 USO, and winning 35 straight, including Sharapova in the YEC final. Never losing to Jankovic or Ivanovic.
Her retirement is the story of women's tennis in 2008.

Posted by mizzymm 11/12/2008 at 04:26 PM

I rather have Jelena's year, I think one of the reason her head to head against the Williams Sisters is 8-8 is because she's not afraid of them, I love her fiesty attitude, that and the fact that she runs around like crazy, and not a hair out of place.

Posted by bluesunflower 11/12/2008 at 04:51 PM

I know the question was whose year, Ana or JJ but my answer is neither. I think I would rather have either Williams's year. With fewer tournamentnts they have won the same number of titles and more prize money. That is a more efficient return of their year as the table below illustrates.

Player. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Serena. . . . . . . . . . . Venus. . . . . . . . Ivanovic. . . . . . . . . . Jankovic
Tournaments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13. . . . . . . . . . . . 14 . . . . . . . . . . . 18 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22
YTD Won/Lost. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 44-8 . . . . . . . . . . 40-11 . . . . . . . . 38-15 . . . . . . . . . . . . . 65-19
YTD Titles. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3 . . . . . . . . . . . . 3 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .4
YTD Prize Money . . . . . . . . . . . $3,852,173. . . . . . $3,747,565 . . . . . .$2,838,390 . . . . . . $3,064,465
Prize Money/Tournament . . . . $296,321. . . . . . . . $267,683 . . . . . . . $157,688 . . . . . . . $139,293

Posted by Tennis Fan 11/12/2008 at 05:38 PM

bluesunflower: If your going to put it strictly in monetary terms, which was not the point this article was trying to make, then yeah you want to be Venus and Serena and not just for the prize money but also for the endorsement deals which far outweigh the prize money - which is more a factor of notoriety based on past achievement. However, for future endorsement income, I think you would want to be Sharapova or Ivanovic but JJ should get her share.

I just want to make some adjustments to your figures. (1) You included doubles $$. I don't think it fair to the serbs to include doubles money, when you are a Williams and your partner is a Williams. (However, I did note that Venus made slightly more in doubles $$ than Serena. This could only mean that Venus played with someone other than her sister, and she did: Wozniacki of all people in Doha of all places.) (2) One of the tournaments was the Olympics and therefore an unpaid event. So I decreased the tournaments for all, except Ivanovic - who withdrew, by one. (2) JJ - should be lauded for playing in the tournaments that she did, when Venus and Serena choose not to to save themselves for the big events. Further, JJ played Zurich, after playing and winning 3 tournaments in three weeks and by all rights should have pulled out, but she played it because it was a 'commitment' tournament. And she lived up to her committment, unlike Serena who pulled out of Moscow to go surfing. Therefore, I decreased her tournaments played by one again.

Serena - 3,594,119 / 12 = 299,510
Venus - 3,485,326 / 13 = 268,102
JJ - 3,051,407 / 20 = 152,570
Ivanovic - 2,833,815 / 18 = 157,434

The other aspect to this is WTA players are required, this year, to play 13 WTA tournaments a year in addition to the slams. Meaning your minimum amount of tournaments should be 17 (not including YEC). Therefore, only JJ and Ivanovic met the minimum. Do you think that Venus and Serena should have to cough up some of their winnings in fines in a donation WTA retirement fund?

But yeah, if you are just looking at the money then you want to be Venus and Serena, and should win wimbledon and RG because they are paid in pounds and euros in lieu of US dollars at all others except (AO). Those are the tournments to win.

Posted by Samantha Elin 11/12/2008 at 05:39 PM

I think the people who say Juju was a quitter don't really understand why she left the game. Justine left so that she could find a man and have a personal life. She dedicated her life to tennis 24/7 and wanted a life outside tennis. That has nothing to do with being a quitter.

Posted by Samantha Elin 11/12/2008 at 05:46 PM

I don't see the money issue has very important. When you look at who had the best year, the slams are what you look at. Most people here picked Ivanovic's year over Jelena because people know how important a slam is. Clearly, both Serena and Venus had a better year than both Jankovic and Ana. Don't look at the money, look at the pretige of the titles they won. Jankovic's titles are the least impressive of the four because of the lack of a slam. Just like Andrew said, when you win a slam, you go in the record books.

Posted by bluesunflower 11/12/2008 at 06:24 PM

The money was just part of it, for money you could substitute points earned in terms of efficiency. JJ & serena at ranking posistions 1& 2 and Venus & Ana at 5 & 6. And titles won. They have won the same number of titles. Serena 4 Venus 3 to Ana's 3 & JJ's 4. But the difference is that all apart from JJ have won a major. And in Venus case the year end championship as well. So for similar titles, points accrued and money earned the williams bear up.

Somebody upthread compared Venus and Davenport. Its the same scenario. And yes as others have noted Ivanovic has had the better year.

Tennis fan as always your analysis is spot on. I did just take total prize money earned without considering the Doubles earnings.

Posted by bluesunflower 11/12/2008 at 06:30 PM

Another point you raised about JJ playing Zurich & Serena going 'surfing'. It raises the whole point of what do we expect from our sports stars. what obligation do they have. Cause in the greater scheme of things do you want Serena occasionally 'surfing' and still playing competitively aged 27 or turning up at tournaments for the sake of turning up as commited to and buring out as some of her former peers have.

Posted by Tennis Fan 11/12/2008 at 07:06 PM

"Another point you raised about JJ playing Zurich & Serena going 'surfing'. It raises the whole point of what do we expect from our sports stars. what obligation do they have."

bluesflower: Accorrding to the WTA rules (and top players sign a commitment contract at the beginning of the season) players are suppose to play at least 17 tournaments. Is it unreasonable to expect them to fulfill this commitment? I only gig Serena on Moscow because she "committed" to the tournament, the tournament probably advertised and sold tickets based on her playing there and probably many fans who expected to see her were disappointed. Her excuse - my ankle is injured - shortly thereafter pictures are taken of her surfing. I would think that staying on a surf board requires some ankle exertion. Not even to say what could happen if a shark comes along or you scrap your foot on a coral reef.

A major league football/baseball and basketball player commitments for a 16/163/40 something(?) games a year plus playoffs and their bodies are in much more peril. Yet these guys are chomping at the bit to play and very often get offended when they are benched unlike tennis players. So if the length of career is the argument it does not hold water to me espcially given that, Martina played into her forties and played many more tournaments. Same with Evert into her thirties.

I think the real problem is there is so much money in the game and endorsements for certain players, and the overall feeling everywhere that only slams matter so the Williams, I guess if you look in the small picture, are smart in that they really only play for slams and the WTA tournaments are relegated to warm-up for slams. Besides they have better things to do. For that matter, I think my health and mental outlook would be better if I only worked three days a week instead of 5. I think I might live to 150 in that senario.

Yet, JJ's achievement and laudable effort without much complaint, except the entertaining kind, and less financial return while making her way and establishing herself by being faithfull to the tour and her commitment and to the fans, is diminished for it (financially or otherwise). Yes, she has not won a slam - yet. But she will. That is my point.

Posted by misael 11/12/2008 at 07:09 PM

yeah but Serena can't complain about Jelena playing every week, she gets her #1 ranking and then plays two matches the rest of the year.

Posted by tina 11/13/2008 at 07:37 AM

Dream beat-down: Seles in her prime over Henin.

Posted by Miles 11/13/2008 at 06:50 PM

I don't have dream "beat-downs". I only enjoy quality tennis, and I suppose some of you have missed Henin at Wimbledon defeating the likes of Seles. Now that was class!!

Posted by Dylan 11/15/2008 at 11:34 AM

Ivanovic's win at the French was a fluke, I hate to say it but it was.

Henin should have taken the title, but my heart still aches from the shocking day she retired

Don't get me wrong, I believe Ivanovic is going to become a spectacular player but I do not think Ivanovic can handle expectations like Sharapova or the William sisters

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