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Page last updated at 05:30 GMT, Thursday, 18 June 2009 06:30 UK

Ivanovic eyes route back to top

WIMBLEDON
Date: 22 June - 5 July
Coverage: BBC One, BBC Two, BBC HD, Red Button, website streaming (UK only) and text commentary, 5 Live, 5 Live Sports Extra, BBC iPlayer
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Ana Ivanovic
Ivanovic suffered an early exit at Eastbourne in the build-up to Wimbledon

By Piers Newbery

When top seed Ana Ivanovic went out in the third round at last year's Wimbledon it was a shock, but seemed likely to be little more than a blip on her relentless upward trajectory.

At the age of 20, the Serb was the newly-crowned French Open champion and the new world number one. Twelve months on, and it is a very different story.

Defeat in the fourth round in Paris last month has seen her slip to 13 in the world rankings, and there have been two changes of coach in quick succession as she looks to arrest a decline that has seen her win just one relatively minor title since Roland Garros in May, 2008.

Any hope that a change of surface might bring better fortune ended swiftly with a first-round exit in Eastbourne, albeit against a high-quality and higher-ranked opponent in Nadia Petrova.

Speaking the day before that defeat, Ivanovic remained as cheerful as the Eastbourne weather despite being asked to recall her 6-1 6-4 loss to Jie Zheng at the All England Club 12 months ago.

"Last year it was really hard because after the French Open I had quite an intense week with the media, and I was in Serbia for a week which was kind of draining," she told BBC Sport.

There was a time at the beginning of the year when even if I was playing good, I didn't know why I was playing good

"I mean, it was the best time of my life but it was very emotional so once I got to Wimbledon I felt, 'Oh my God, I just need a break.' It was very hard and I struggled to get back the intensity I had during the French Open.

"I didn't feel much pressure because I felt I'd been playing well but something was missing, some spark. I didn't take the defeat too badly, obviously I was disappointed to go out early but Wimbledon was kind of a blur, I don't remember much of it."

A second-round loss followed at the US Open and a thumb injury kept Ivanovic out of the Olympic Games as her year petered out, with a late tournament win in Austria small consolation.

"It was frustrating at the time because up until that moment in my career everything was sort of going up - my ranking was improving, I got to number one and it was like, 'OK, what's next?'" she said.

"Injuries came and some disappointments and it was very hard for me to cope with that. All of a sudden my ranking was dropping and things were not coming as easy as I probably expected them too, and I tried to force it, work even harder, and sometimes the more you want it the less easy it comes."

Ana Ivanovic
Ivanovic lost in the third round at last year's Wimbledon when top seed

More disappointment followed with a third-round loss at the Australian Open in January and Ivanovic took on the respected Craig Kardon as her coach in February.

A run to the final in Indian Wells suggested promise but since then Ivanovic has not been past the last 16 of a tournament and has struggled with a knee injury, and the relationship with Kardon ended in early June after just four months.

"He's a great guy but in my game I feel like there is still so much potential and so many things I can improve, so I always look for someone who can help me with that and help me learn every time I step on the court," said Ivanovic.

Australian Darren Cahill has stepped in for the moment as part of the adidas player development programme but it is a temporary move, at least for now.

"I'm just taking it tournament by tournament. He'll be here for the next few weeks over Wimbledon. Obviously I would like to have a full-time coach in the future but it's not something I'm going to rush, I want to make the right decision and find someone who suits me and who can help me achieve bigger things.

"I felt that I didn't have the intensity in my practice that I had before, it was a few good days and then not so good days, and I never felt I could have intensive practice in continuity.

606: DEBATE

"It was partly because of some injuries but partly because I was struggling to find the right sparring partner, the right coach who can push me. I addressed that over the last few weeks and I could see results straight away, so it was kind of inspiring.

"There was a time at the beginning of the year when even if I was playing good, I didn't know why I was playing good. Now at least I have a goal and a system again for what I have to work on. That puts me at ease and gives me more confidence."

But top-class tennis is a ruthless business and a glance at the scoreboard in Eastbourne shows Nicole Vaidisova - who was ranked seventh when she lost to Ivanovic in the quarter-finals of Wimbledon two years ago - going out in the second round of qualifying.

Highlights: Ivanovic triumphs at the French Open

The Czech, just five months younger than Ivanovic, is now ranked 67 after two desperate years that highlight how difficult it can be to regain form and confidence, but Ivanovic remains genuinely optimistic that she will avoid the same fate.

"I believe I can get back to number one and I can win Grand Slams," she said. "I think I'm on a good way back and it can happen - even Wimbledon, you never know.

"I just have to put it all together and mentally be in the moment because many times, when I start feeling good I get so excited and start thinking about the outcome and the final result instead of taking care of each match.

"I've been working on that too and once I get this a little bit more under control I know that the results are just around the corner."

That is clearly still a work in progress as 24 hours later the Serb lets a double-break advantage slip in the final set against Petrova.

It was at Wimbledon last year that the Ivanovic decline began, it would be the perfect place to put a forgettable 12 months behind her.



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see also
Ivanovic loses out at Eastbourne
15 Jun 09 |  Tennis
Ivanovic parts with coach Kardon
09 Jun 09 |  Tennis
Ivanovic sent to defeat in Paris
31 May 09 |  Tennis
Ivanovic ruled out of Madrid Open
08 May 09 |  Tennis
Zvonareva beats Ivanovic in final
22 Mar 09 |  Tennis
Safina & Ivanovic in shock exits
29 Mar 09 |  Tennis
Ivanovic crashes out in Melbourne
23 Jan 09 |  Tennis
Ivanovic secures title in Austria
26 Oct 08 |  Tennis
Ivanovic beaten by qualifier Coin
28 Aug 08 |  Tennis
Injured Ivanovic out of Olympics
10 Aug 08 |  Tennis
Top seed Ivanovic upset by Zheng
27 Jun 08 |  Tennis
Ivanovic seals French Open title
07 Jun 08 |  Tennis


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