Star factor and Ana Ivanovic have long been synonymous. While her tennis abilities are highlighted by a rise to world No.1 in 2008 and Grand Slam success at the French Open that year, it’s combining them with more personal ones that have resulted in mass media interest, a string of sponsors and countless fans.
And thus Ivanovic’s recent forays outside the game’s upper echelons weren’t merely puzzling to many, but disappointing too. A drop outside the world’s top 20 in 2011 seemed a waste for a player of the Serbian’s standards; the return of “Star Ana” couldn’t come soon enough.
Wimbledon 2014 could well provide the turning point. Entering The Championships with a season high three titles this year (the most recent her first-ever grass court win in Birmingham), Ivanovic is showcasing a pleasing consistency and growing confidence – and both of those qualities showed as she claimed a 7-6(6) 6-4 first round win over Francesca Schiavone at Wimbledon today.
Ivanovic started as the clear favourite, having won all five matches the pair had contested. And while her ranking has steadily risen this season to world No.11, Schiavone’s has sadly been slipping in the opposite direction. The Italian started 2014 at No.42 and has since dropped to 76.
Not that Schiavone was an opponent to be underestimated. Also a former French Open champion (and in fact a more recent one, having claimed her title in 2010), the third oldest player in the women’s draw was contesting her 56th consecutive Grand Slam, that admirable longevity underlining both her talent and the work ethic she’s utilised to capitalise on it.
It was unsurprising then, that today’s match would prove a tight contest, especially in the 52-minute first set. It started with the two women exchanging service breaks and there was little to separate them until a tie-break, in which Schiavone took a 4-1 lead before a costly double fault allowed the Serbian to wrestle momentum away.
The second set would prove a more straightforward affair for Ivanovic, helped partly by another untimely Schiavone double fault that gave her a service break in the fifth game. Schiavone fought hard but couldn’t convert her only other break point.
Ivanovic’s 24 winners and four aces pointed to the aggression that has contributed to some significant high points this season, including an upset of world No.1 Serena Williams at the Australian Open.
There’s a sense that more milestones will soon follow for the Serbian, who at world No.11 and with few rankings points to defend this tournament appears likely to make a top 10 return. She next faces China’s Jie Zheng and while it’s not yet certain whether another Grand Slam title awaits, there are few that would disagree that Ivanovic’s star power is once again clear to see.
20:08It brings me no pleasure but it's time to bring the curtain down for another year. Seemed somehow appropriate to leave the last word to Roger Federer. Thanks a billion for reading. What a fortnight, what a final, fast forward to 2015 please...
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