Ana Ivanovic won her first and only Grand Slam, the 2008 French Open, at age 20.
Now, after six years and an unexpected slide into the anonymity of being a good-but-not-great pro tennis player, she has returned to the sport’s biggest stage.
She plays Serena Williams on Sunday in the most anticipated match of the 2014 Australian Open so far. Because of a quirk in the draw, the 14th-ranked Ivanovic plays the 1st-ranked Williams way earlier than they would have in a perfect world.
Ivanovic has won eight matches in a row — a run that included a title in Auckland and a win over Sam Stosur on her home turf. At age 26 she’s playing her best tennis in years, and has a golden opportunity to regain the fame and attention that looked inevitable in 2008.
With one of the biggest serves in the history of women’s tennis, Ivanovic stormed into the summer of ’08 ranked No. 1 in the world.
Off the court, she was a budding superstar — an Anna Kournikova who could actually play.
She did a racy photoshoot for FHM that summer. Darren Rovell of CNBC guessed that she’d become one of the highest-earning female athletes in the world in an article titled, “Ana Ivanovic: The $US100 Million Woman?”
She eventually got deals with big brands Rolex and Adidas.
But — as players like Kournikova know all to well — your star can only become so big if you don’t back it up with on-court results. And that’s where she fell apart.
After winning the 2008 French Open, Ivanovic has made it to the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam event just once (via Wikipedia):
Her world ranking fell from No. 1 in June of 2008 to No. 22 at the end of 2009, and she eventually hit rock bottom (No. 65 in the world) in July of 2010. Whether or dip was due to a string of small injuries or a lack of focus because of off-court concerns, Ivanovic never had the sustained success needed to become a mainstream star athlete.
Even as she has worked her way back into the mid-teens since 2010, she has made no noise at Grand Slams and remained an also-ran. A romance with golfer Adam Scott is probably the most notable Ana Ivanovic story in the last five years.
In 2012, Ivanovic told the New York Times that her career would be a failure if she never won another Grand Slam.
To win a Slam in the three-to-four years she has left in her prime, Ivanovic will almost certainly have to go through Serena.
Sunday will be her first chance.
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