Coming Up, Coming Back
March 29, 2011 -- Ana Ivanovic cruised. With two breaks to her favor in the third set, any fan would have bet she'd upset defending Sony Ericsson Open champion, Kim Clijsters. But miracles can happen. Down 0-40 and 1-5, Clijsters clawed her way back, saving four match points and scoring the win in a tiebreak.
"I stayed calm and focused," Clijsters said methodically. "That gave me chances to break, which I did. You have to keep trying until the last shot is played."
Andrea Petkovic made quite a name for herself yesterday when she upset world's #1 Caroline Wozniacki. Petkovic came out with a plan and road it through to the final point -- an ace. She tried to do the same thing tonight against Jelena Jankovic, but was initially thwarted. Jankovic was just too good and Petkovic lost the first set after a lengthy rain delay, 6-2.
But in the second set the likable Petkovic -- famous for her Petko Dance -- felt the momentum swing. She ran down balls, moved Jankovic, and took her shots.
"I was trying to get in the rhythm," Petkovic said. "Then again, afterwards, I was again able to wait for my chance and go for it when it was the most important."
And like Clijsters, Petkovic marched forward point by point, pumping herself up along the way, believing she could possibly triumph over the sixth seeded Jankovic.
Ivanovic took her chances, too, against Clijsters. But they weren't quite good enough to close the match, which she desperately tried to do: at 5-1, at 5-3, and again in the tiebreak.
"I felt I created chances but she served well," Ivanovic said, smiling away as if the loss wasn't as tragic as people anticipated. "But then I tried to force my serve and that was bad."
"You can feel when an opponent wavers," Clijsters admitted. "I didn't think she was serving that well. I stayed focused on my game. I don't think about who I'm playing."
Clijsters escape from elimination could be written off to a cliche -- she did what champions do. They fight when down. They take each game point by point. They sense their opponents' strengths and weaknesses, and they capitalize on them. And that's exactly what Clijsters did.
"It's easy to go in your cocoon," Clijsters began, "and try and work your way through that and try to get rid of that bad feeling that you have and just try to take little steps."
As easy as Clijsters made her victory sound, she was well aware of Ivanovic and how well she has played in the past, before her fall from tennis's better graces.
'She was playing really well tonight," Clijsters said. "It's been a long time since I've seen her play like that, playing aggressive, serving well. She's tough to beat, so if she can keep that up, well..."
"I felt I stayed throughout the whole match," Ivanovic said. "I stayed with her and I created the opportunities for myself. I really [feel] like I haven't done much wrong. I had my opportunities. But lots of positives to take away."
Ivanovic's fall from champion of Roland Garros in 2008 to outside the top 60 in the rankings two years later is a sad tail that's well documented. Her familiar hand pump, the way she tugged on her visor when a bit overwhelmed and somewhat embarrassed, plus her competitive spirit and blistering forehand couldn't be forgotten. She was welcomed as a heroine in Serbia, too, being the first from her country to win a major in 2008.
Maybe the whole thing was too much. Maybe the right thumb injury after Roland Garros gave her too much time to think and obsess about her ranking and what injuries, in general, could mean to her career. She even withdrew from The Olympics and won only one title, her eighth, in Linz. She racked up 5 tour titles in 2007.
Just how she reached the pinnacle of the game and then reversed engines is an argument with no solid conclusions. What matters is -- Ana is coming back.
Her victory over Jelena Jankovic in Indian Wells earlier this month added to her confidence, too.
"I played some good tennis in past few weeks," Ivanovic began. "But to have it all the way through this match and play consistent on that level... I'm really pleased."
She's in Miami without an official coach, and her mother isn't constantly in the player's box. But feelers are out for the next addition to her support team.
"I'm definitely talking with Darren [Cahill] and even Gil Reyes with adidas program to see how I'm going to approach it," Ivanovic said in Indian Wells. She mentioned she spent a week in Las Vegas with that team, before coming to Miami, too.
So what does Ana think of Andrea Petkovic? "She's a great girl and can beat anyone. She's a very smart girl, too, and well educated."
Petkovic's decision to pull back on her power play against Caroline Wozniacki yesterday was a smart move. It required patience and confidence. In the heat of competition, especially on center court against the number one player in the world, when temperature hovered in the mid-80s and humidity soaked fans who didn't budge, the strategy could have easily evaporated leaving the young star frustrated and without a way to navigate the match.
Tonight her lucky break came in the form of rain.
"I was slow on my feet early," Petkovic began. "I think the rain delay slowed her down a little bit and gave me also the moments and the time to calm down a little bit because I was also getting emotional and frustrated with myself."
The more we learn about Petkovic, the more we can acknowledge that her willingness to improve comes from listening to Coach Petar Popovic and executing a type of tennis that's flexible. She also takes defeats seriously, after her loss to Svetlana Kuznetsova in the first round of the U. S. Open last fall.
"I think this match brought much more to me than if I had won."
At the time, she called it a choke, but now believes her mind wandered from a calm place alive with short-term memories of how she got to four match points.
Petkovic wants to reach the top 20 by year's end. Currently, she's ranked 23. Three spots stand in her way, but the distance is formidable.
She also wants to be seeded in the top 16, by year's end, as reported by Reuters. "It makes life a bit easier in the Grand Slams," she said, before cracking up. The obvious is funny to Andrea.
The opportunities on the WTA Tour are also obvious to Andrea, but she isn't one to undermine other players in order to elevate her.
"I like to call it the new generation," she said thoughtfully. "There are so many new girls out there who are coming up and who really have a big game. So, it's really like a change of generations right now, also with the Williams sisters struggling right now. I definitely feel like there are some of us who have the opportunity now to break through, this year especially."