stosur

Ivanovic, Jankovic Within Striking Distance of the Top 10

Battling each other in Grand Slam semis, making finals at the Majors, holding the No. 1 ranking—that all used to be status quo for Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic.

The past couple of years for both of the Serbian superstars make that all seem like a distant memory. Both of them finished 2011 outside of the top 10—the first time neither one has been ranked among the WTA’s elite since 2006. Since 2009, there’s only been one Grand Slam semifinal appearance between the two of them. And at one point in 2010, Ivanovic found herself ranked outside the top 60.

Despite that, 2012 has the potential to mark a return to form for both of them.

Perhaps the most compelling reason to believe they could find themselves back in the top 10 is the unpredictability of the women’s tour right now. Last year, three players won the first Grand Slam titles of their careers: Li Na at the French Open, Petra Kvitova at Wimbledon and Samantha Stosur at the U.S. Open. Those three definitely weren’t considered clear-cut favorites going into those Majors, but there they were at the end of the two weeks lifting the big trophies.

In other words, it’s anyone’s ball game out there, a fact that should serve two veterans that have found themselves in winning positions on the biggest stages quite well.

That segues into the experience factor being crucial to further success. Ivanovic is a former French Open champion and has been runner-up in two other Grand Slam finals. In addition to making the finals of the U.S. Open in ’08, Jankovic has made five other Major semis in her career.

Their playing style also translates well to any surface, each having had success on grass, hard and clay courts. While neither Jankovic or Ivanovic have been considered the biggest hitters in the game, they are each athletic enough to get themselves in position to generate more pace on their groundstrokes than most players and are capable of playing solid defense.

Plus, there are some signs that they’re heading in the right direction. After going exactly two years between winning singles titles, Ivanovic has won three in the past year. Jankovic still managed to make two finals in 2011, despite it being a down season for her.

The two have been making news this offseason with changes on their teams, as well, bringing in new trainers and in the case of Jankovic, a new coach.

Sitting within striking distance of the top 10, Ivanovic and Jankovic have the games and the experience to get them back near the upper reaches of the standings. It boils down to a matter of putting it all together now, still in the prime of their careers.

If I Were The Tennis Santa

I really feel bad for the tennis players over the holidays.  They work so hard for so little and barely have time to relax!  So if I were the Tennis Santa, what would I bring them to lighten their load and bring a smile to their faces during this season of cheer?

The first thing I would wrap up and put under the e-tree would be the Fountain of Youth. Did you know that it’s actually an Archaeological Park in Florida?  How cool! I’d pass out a lot of these since quite a few players are at or around the age of doom (30) and could use the assistance turning back the clock and prolonging their tennis primes. I wouldn’t give one to Federer though. He doesn’t need any help.

Speaking of turning back time, I’ve found the perfect gift to help Andy Roddick re-discover his days of glory- or at least his days of hair. The Afro-Visor!


For Andy Murray, I thought some “Understand Your Mother (Instantly) Breath Spray” might be helpful, considering his mother’s eternal wisdom and awesomeness.

I’d give this “Sharp-End Dog Pencil Sharpener” to Rafael Nadal, mainly just to see his reaction.  What’s the fun in playing Santa if you can’t be a little bit naughty?

 

On the other end of the spectrum Robin Soderling just got a new puppy, so I will certainly have to bring him an embarrassing costume for the adorable pet!

I thought I’d get the cerebral Sam Stosur something special to help those match to-do lists stay put. Sweat-bands and sharpies are too finicky of a combination for a Grand Slam Champion!  She’ll love these “To-Do Tattoos”.

 

I’ve decided it’s time for Agnieszka Radwanska to finally come out of the ninja closet.  This “Ninja Hooded Mask” will reveal her true identity in 2012. Watch out WTA!

 

For Mikhail Youzhny, and maybe the rest of his Russian compatriots, I’d like to try to eliminate the brain farts on the court.  Therefore, why not help them get out of their system off the court?  The “Brain Fart Whoopie Cushion” should do the trick.

 

And finally, I’d like to prolong the day that Jelena Jankovic inevitably runs out of entertaining excuses for losing tennis matches. With this “Instant Excuse Ball” the colorful Serbian should have material for years to come!

 

So that’s my list- what about you? What would you virtually gift to your favorite players if you were the Tennis Santa? Feel free to share in the comments section, or tweet me with your lists. And no matter what you celebrate, be sure to have a safe and happy Holiday season. There’s no time to be too naughty, the new tennis season is just around the corner!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Voice of a U.S. Open tennis fan

by Romana Cvitkovic

Being a tennis fan can be both exhilarating and cruel. Just ask anyone sitting in the upper deck of the world’s largest tennis venue, Arthur Ashe Stadium, at this year’s U.S. Open. From that high up, the players look more like specks playing ping pong than tennis, but the atmosphere of the crowd is electrifying as cheers for both players echo off the grandiose stadium.

As a devout tennis fan, we are addicted to the euphoria, the stress, and the drama of the sport. Sure, we go for the entertainment value and the sense of belonging to something bigger than ourselves. But what makes tennis unique is that it is an individual sport. Instead of cheering for a basketball or football team passed down through generations, we gravitate towards individual players who reflect parts of our own personality, such as the fierceness of Serena Williams or the humor-driven game of Novak Djokovic. With no teammates and coaches to look to, each player is out on court alone, putting their hard training and mental strength to the ultimate test. And that’s where fans come in, making up the difference.

With essentially no off-season and no hometown advantage for any one player due to constant travelling, tennis is a year-round battleground. Players enter tournaments on a weekly basis, travelling from continent to continent, in search for glory. A player may play six or more matches in any given week, possibly win the tournament if they are lucky, catch a red-eye flight to the next city, and start fresh without a day off. As fans, our schedules reflect their grueling weekly battles, and we progress with them through their journey of elated wins and deflated losses, week after week. Loyalty and patience are as much of a factor in a fan’s life as euphoria and stress, and the players are dependent on the crowd’s energy as they travel the globe.

After her epic win over Maria Kirilenko earlier this week, 2011 U.S. Open champion Samantha Stosur recalled the intensity of the history-setting second set tiebreak (which ended 17-15 in Kirilenko’s favor), and the crowd’s influence on her psyche.

“I lost track of the score. Didn’t know at one point if I was serving or receiving or when we should be changing ends, what was going on … it was super-exciting. The crowd was really into it. Couldn’t really hear myself think at times because it was so loud out there.”

2009 U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro echoed Stosur’s thoughts on fan contribution. “I really enjoy the crowd, the fans are crazy, and they are very excited … the crowds are full every match. For me, that helps me to fight.” In reference to playing on the intimate Grandstand stadium, the third largest at the site, he added that “we are pretty close to the fans and we can hear every word.” Del Potro goes on to reminisce about his win in the final two years ago stating that “I was two sets to one down and [the fans] help me, started cheering more for me than Roger [Federer], and that help me a lot to win the final.”

Prior to his title in Flushing Meadows that year, Del Potro was a relative unknown in the United States. But loyal fans who had watched him mature from the junior circuit to the men’s tour caught glimpses of his brilliance early on in his career. Although celebrity players such as the Williams’ sisters and Federer generate high television ratings, the back courts of tennis are where stars are created. This is the place where casual spectators turn into lifelong supporters of players, following their careers unwaveringly through all the ups and downs.

And no two other players have more ups and downs than France’s Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gael Monfils. Although utilizing vastly different playing styles, they are self-proclaimed entertainers, winning and losing in equally spectacular fashion. As a fan, it’s both maddening and gratifying as you can never anticipate which version of the player will strike: the controlled genius or the self-imploding fatalist. But we continue to support them. Why? Because although their potential exceeds their current form, it may one day translate into a history-making run or title at a Grand Slam, as it has with Tsonga during the U.S. Open.

In our increasingly transient and insular society, it’s welcoming to identify with a particular player. When we equate ourselves with someone who has made a breakthrough, we revel just as deeply in their joy as they do, and in some parallel universe believe we had something to do with their win. And that’s all fans require sometimes: belief in a player. It’s not always about cheering for the winner; they’ve learned to win whether they are in a stadium viewed by 5 or 50,000 people. Rather, we cheer for the underdog because that is when a fan’s voice makes a difference.