Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Rome: Ana’s Back…sorta

Ana Ivanovic has won three matches in a row.

I kid ye not - two of those were top ten wins.

Linz 2008, for the wannabe-eggheads amongst you, was the last time that happened.


When I heard she’d put out Vesnina (a player ranked 26 spots above her), I put it down to chance.

When I heard she’d taken down Vika, I put it down to injury.

As I watched her opposite Dementieva today, there was little doubt in my mind I was seeing a player transformed (That doesn’t mean I approve of all the changes, but we’ll get back to that).

You’ll hear it said often enough over the next 24 hours, so let me just observe right out that Dementcha was not at the races. Disembowel anyone that tries to tell you otherwise.

I just don’t think it matters very much is all and, in any case, doesn’t account for the radical way in which Gunhardt appears to have gone about stripping down and gutting out Ana’s game – before seemingly rebuilding it from the ground up.

Which you might argue is exactly what was required (She’d done the whole one-step-fwd-two-steps-back dance for nearly two years).

Gone, I hope, is the over-pressing, try-hard neurotic – the one that likes to paint all her misgivings as being born of “perfectionism” – and in her place sits a focused but chancy competitor. I did say I hope.

What immediately leaps out at you is how she’s no longer as interested in going for the lines – electing instead in favour of a greater margin for error, mostly (it must be said) through increased spin and height over the net.

That’s right folks, Ana’s gone down the grinders route, much in the way Novak did in 2008. He’s not been the same ever since.

Though I’m more inclined to agree that this was the right thing to do in Ana’s case seeing as how the levels of toxicity present in her game had breached all internationally agreed limits, and how taking the pressure off herself in this way seems to have allowed her to relax. She’s certainly not spraying errors anymore.

There’s also the beefier serve of course, which no longer appears to suffer from those giddy ball tosses, and which dug her out of many tough spots today.

What happens from this point on is largely down to her opponents and whether or not Ana’s in her happy place.

At her best she now seems capable of exactly the kinds of changes in pace and direction missing from her tennis philosophy only a few months ago (the word “texture” was mentioned). That I like.

At its worst, it’s little more than pushing (which would likely quickly be seized upon by a more demanding presence than Elena proved to be today).

But you know what? She doesn’t appear to care. For now it’s good enough to have her winning matches again, so I can’t in all honesty say that I do either.

Over in Estoril, some guy called Roger Federer won his first clay court match of the season. From what I hear he’s considered a good bet for the French Open, though he himself insists he’s not the favourite.

He’s right.

(Photo: AP)

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