Is Ana Ivanovic the real deal for the US Open?

Ana Ivanovic: the real deal and a pigment to the Women’s Tennis Association or simply someone who flatters to deceive?

The Serb swerves into the last slam of the year with an unprecedented 47-13 win loss ratio for the year as she tops the WTA with the most wins of the year, but what has been the common ingredient to her success? What can her stand out qualities bring to the Flushing Meadows table?

Firstly, you’ve got to commend the way she’s gone about her business in terms of the professional employments of her last two coaches. Ivanovic first employed relaxed practitioner and fellow Serbian in Nemanja Kontic at the conclusion of her Wimbledon loss to Eugenie Bouchard last year. That appointment was perhaps one of the smoothest of appointments in the last year in the WTA alone. Kontic, renowned for his pragmatic way of thinking, has to a degree made this line of thought rub off on Ana. Kontic was a calming influence who guided Ivanovic to three titles this year: Auckland, Monterrey and finally a grass court premier title in Birmingham. On top of that he drove her to a final in Stuttgart and a semi-final run in Rome; without a shadow of a doubt his persona has been largely down to her success in 2014 and it shouldn’t be overlooked.

Another factor which suggests that Ana Ivanovic is back in the big time is not just necessarily her ability to take the opponent out with her forehand but for me it’s her sustained approach to managing the backhand. The backhand has always been a shot which Ivanovic hasn’t necessarily had at her disposal, but Kontic has directed her to be more proactive with the backhand cross-court rather than being almost totally reliant on what the forehand can do; that for certain is the biggest difference made in Ivanovic’s game. The semi-final and final against Kirsten Flipkens and Venus Williams in Auckland demonstrated her rejuvenated confidence in that backhand stroke and she’s now developed that stroke into not so much a weapon as the forehand, but a weapon she can rely on to an extent.

Furthermore, the cornerstone of Ana Ivanovic’s success has been her record against the big players in this season which has improved drastically over twelve months; she’s currently at twenty wins to eight losses vs Top 20 opponents in 2014. Compare that to her Top 20 record in 2012 and 2013, which is five wins for fourteen losses in 2013 and six wins for ten losses two years ago; an incredible improvement in the space of a couple of years. She’s getting to the business end of tournaments, thus playing the bigger players more frequently, but more significantly she’s handling the pressure of playing these tough opponents superbly.

What other talking point earmarks that Ana Ivanovic can make a run at the US Open? For me that has to be her being able to compete with what Serena has to offer in what has to be one of the best rivalries of 2014. Ivanovic’s first four meetings with Serena were one-sided but in 2014 we witnessed the upset at the Australian but more importantly she also ran her close in Rome and in Stanford. Previously the only player that could really compete with Serena at her best was Victoria Azarenka but in 2014 we’ve finally seen another candidate in Ivanovic that perhaps she could be the sleeper that catches Serena off-guard under the lights in New York.

The elements which could be identified as drawbacks for Ivanovic from what I’ve seen this year is her tendency to get down on herself when her body’s breaking down, often leading to an element of doubt which stems through the rest of her game. For example, we’ve seen this sort of issue with the likes of Kei Nishikori on the ATP, where when one indication of a blemish to the body hinders him it can often take him back a few notches mentally as well- I think that same problem can be intertwined with Ivanovic this year but on a smaller scale.

The second flaw that can’t be overlooked is the ball toss; still a problem at any level. Throughout her career that’s one blemish which has always been problematic; not only in blustery conditions will it make her second guess the following serve but also she tends to strike her serve even if she’s thrown a misjudged service ball. You just never quite know what you’re going to get with Ivanovic’s ball toss, so the extra variable of the wind is a major factor in terms of her serving peacefully for the next two weeks.

To conclude I think she’ll be a force at this years US Open; she has a good draw in the early stages, with a good head to head against her projected opponents. One additional mention is how she’d handle Serena in the US and I have a feeling she might just pull through this one.

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