If you like your #narrative to have a little symmetry, then do I have a post for you:
“This is the story of a girl named Ana…”
It’s funny to think that, at the time, Ivanovic’s 2008 Wimbledon loss to Zheng Jie hardly seemed noteworthy. The Serbian star had the No. 1 ranking in one hand, and a maiden major title in the other. Endowed with good looks and a bubbly personality, Ivanovic had climbed to the top of her sport with more heights just beyond her peak. But losing to the eventual Wimbledon semifinalist wasn’t a blip.
It was the beginning of a process.
And like your average dial-up video, this process buffered. Often. For six years. The 2014 season has been steadier streaming for the Serb, and a rematch with Zheng at the tournament that sparked her slump was more symbolic than anything else. The veteran Chinesewoman hasn’t been in giant-killing form of late, and Ivanovic has proven she can play efficient — even dominating — tennis on grass. Yet, in a sport where only the (mentally) strong survive, it would have been easy for a match-up that carries so much emotional baggage for one of its players to become complicated.
To the shock of everyone, it didn’t. Through an up-and-down opener, Ivanovic never yielded her ascendency, immediately breaking for the set after failing to serve it out herself. That moment proved crucial as it allowed the Serb to loosen up and play some of the aggressive grass court tennis that took her to the title in Birmingham.
She’ll next face last year’s finalist Sabine Lisicki in the third round. It is a match that could well determine the quarterfinalist in a section opposite two unseeded (but looming) players. The German has looked equally strong in her first two matches. It will be a big test for Ivanovic, who has spent most of the season looking to abandon her process and continue her progress.
To call Ana Ivanovic a “confidence player” is reductive, as it assumes a player – or any athlete – can succeed without confidence. What the Serb has ultimately lacked over the last six years is belief, in her game and, most importantly, in herself. If writers of fairytales have their way, Ivanovic will parlay this victory into a happy ending. Reality is obviously more complex, but it can most definitely be said that the former No. 1 has closed the book on a more tumultuous time in her life.
At 26 years old, her story may have just begun.