At 20 years old, Ana Ivanovic rose to the top of the women's tennis world with a loss in the final of the 2008 Australian Open followed by a win in the next Grand Slam, the French Open. For the tall, talented Serbian, there seemed to be the promise of an extended stay at No. 1.
It didn't happen.
Ivanovic, the 12th seed at the U.S. Open, has been all over the world rankings since, going through a series of painful losses that led to a painful loss of confidence, and then injuries that would derail any player. Before this Open she had played one match on hardcourt, a first-round blowout by Roberta Vinci in Montreal, where she failed to win a game. The following week she withdrew from Cincinnati because of pain in her right foot.
So there wasn't the best of preparation for the Open's two-week run, but she's building momentum. Ivanovic put away Sophia Arvidsson, 6-2, 6-2, yesterday at Ashe Stadium in the second round, and next faces American teenager Sloane Stephens, who beat Tatjana Malek, 5-7, 6-4, 6-2.
In Ivanovic's case, medicine has been the best medicine. "I still have a handful of pills every morning,'' she said. "It's never a good time for injury, but it's also part of our sport. We play so much and changing surfaces, and, you know, continents. It's not always the best thing for the body, and the mind as well.''
After her first-round victory, she spoke of how tennis was not only hard on the body, but the heart.
"Emotionally it's very hard,'' she said with a big smile. "Especially speaking from experience because I take everything personally and I'm such a perfectionist, when you have tough matches and you lose, it's all in the public eye. It's not easy to deal with it yourself, and yet you have to deal with it in front of so many people.''
Ivanovic has put on a happy face through thick and thin. And Stephens, her next opponent, is equally effervescent.
"She's very bubbly, for sure,'' Ivanovic said. "She's very happy and upbeat. I do see myself a little bit. But I think over the years I calmed down. She might do the same.''
Ivanovic's quarter of the draw is now without two significant players, Caroline Wozniacki and Francesca Schiavone, whom Stephens put out in the first round. A victory over Stephens and another in the fourth round likely would put her in the quarterfinals against Serena Williams. Former champion and television commentator Chris Evert tabbed Ivanovic as her sleeper pick for the Open.
"Oh, that's nice,'' Ivanovic said. "Now I know what it means.''
There is work to do.
"I know I have the game to get far,'' she said. "I have done that in the past, but yet it's been a long time since I have reached the quarterfinals in a Grand Slam. So that would be my next step.''