Deep run at Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships can help Ana Ivanovic get a seat back at the top table

The 2008 French Open champion and former world No 1 ready to use Dubai tournament as a launchpad back to the elite level of women's tennis, but world No 3 and defending Dubai champion Simona Halep stands in her way of progressing at the Aviation Club.
Ana Ivanovic of Serbia in action against Daria Gavrilova of Australia during their first round match of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis WTA Championships in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, 16 February 2016. EPA/ALI HAIDER
Ana Ivanovic of Serbia in action against Daria Gavrilova of Australia during their first round match of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis WTA Championships in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, 16 February 2016. EPA/ALI HAIDER

DUBAI // Flattering to deceive. A term most commonly used to describe an athlete who can produce the sublime, but ultimately falls short when it matters most.

To suggest this applies to Ana Ivanovic may do a disservice to a grand slam champion and former world No 1, but given the levels of which she is capable of operating, it is not all that wide of the mark. Consider it a backhanded compliment, if you will.

Her showings at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships are perhaps the most compelling evidence.

Read more: Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships: The National’s full coverage

Last year, she crushed former Wimbledon finalist Sabine Lisicki in the second round, her first match, before losing to Karolina Pliskova. In 2014, an impressive victory over current Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber kick-started her tournament, only to then be thrashed by Venus Williams in the next round.

Since making her Dubai debut in 2005 as a qualifier, three quarter-finals are all she has to show for her efforts.

Ivanovic, 28, will hope history is not repeating itself in 2016. Facing a tough opponent in world No 35 Daria Gavrilova in her first-round match on Tuesday, Ivanovic produced some mesmerising tennis to blow her opponent off court 6-1, 6-0 in just 54 minutes.

Gavrilova, who reached the last 16 in Melbourne last month, was certainly not at the races, but Ivanovic did not even let her take her place at the starting gate.

Aside from a wobble in Game 3 when she was broken, Ivanovic was ruthless, bullying Gavrilova around the court, her powerful groundstrokes and consistent serve too much to handle for the 21-year-old Russian-born Australian.

A mighty impressive performance indeed, and against a player who had beaten her in their only previous meeting. “I expected a very tough match because of the battle we had in Rome, and I really tried to step it up and be aggressive,” Ivanovic said.

“Especially out here in the desert, sometimes the balls fly through the air a bit quicker so I tried to use that to my advantage. I’m very pleased overall.”

After a few false dawns, there is a real sense that 2016 could be the start of a genuine revival for Ivanovic and a return to the top table of women’s tennis.

A reunion with coach Nigel Sears, the father-in-law of Andy Murray, as part of a new-look team, a successful pre-season, and gains on the psychological aspect of her game has Ivanovic, at the very least, moving in the right direction.

“Since we started in the middle of last season, it was tough to change things straight away but we have made some big changes now,” Ivanovic said of her partnership with Sears, who she rehired as coach last summer having previously worked together from 2011 to 2013.

“I have a new fitness coach, and a new solid team behind me. All the hard work we have done in the off-season, both on court and fitness, gives me confidence.”

A perceived lack of mental fortitude has, as the world No 17 readily admits, let her down in the past, but a more philosophical outlook on life is helping her improve.

“I really work hard on that part of my game,” she said. “Our brains are amazing and I try to take on as much information as I can. Sometimes it hinders me, but I’m starting to understand myself better; what works for me and what doesn’t.

“I feel more happy and I think that is a big part. I’ve stopped putting so much stress and pressure on myself.”

So far so good in Dubai, but a sterner test awaits in the second round in the shape of defending champion and world No 3 Simona Halep.

“To win tournaments you have to play against the best,” Ivanovic said. “Simona is a very tough player, and it is going to be a very tough challenge.”

Defeat to Halep on Wednesday would hardly be a hammer blow to Ivanovic’s planned revival, but victory would go some way to show that she no longer flatters to deceive.

jturner@thenational.ae

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Published: February 16, 2016 04:00 AM

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