Sunday, August 12, 2007

Serbian Sundae: Served with a Double Scoop

Four years ago, in June of 2003, Nadia Petrova played Kim Clijsters in a tightly-contested match at the French Open semifinals. That same week, Ana Ivanovic was an unseeded junior, playing in the girls singles draw and losing in the third round to top seed Vera Douchevina.

A month later, Roger Federer hoisted his first of ten majors at Wimbledon. That same week, Novak Djokovic beat Cesar Ferrer-Victoria, ranked 973, in the finals of a Futures Three event in his home country of Serbia. Until that week, he didn't have an ATP Tour ranking - it was his third tournament ever.

Just four short years later, the four paths of those mentioned above crossed on two grand stages of professional tennis: Ivanovic claiming her fourth career title and Djokovic winning his second ATP Masters event and beating Federer for the first time in five tries. They've come a long way.

It's not that any of this is a surprise to us - Djokovic and Ivanovic have been on the rise for some time now. Yet the arrival of two such formidable players that breathe new life into a tennis game (especially in America) that has suffered in recent years is reason to celebrate.

Djokovic has fast become one of the most well-known and well-liked stars of the ATP Tour. And after beating Rafael Nadal for the second time in six tries this year (not to mention his win over Roddick in their first-ever meeting), Djokovic has established himself as a real threat not only for the US Open, but for Federer's crown as well.

His steady ground game, quick feet and all-court play make Djokovic the sort of player that can give the Mighty Fed a few problems. And his confidence both on and off the court shows that the youngster isn't afraid to step up and play with the big boys. Yet it's Djokovic's continued learning curve that has kept him on the move in the rankings: he has kept his hunger to get better, and with that, has seen formidable results. So now with two slam semifinals under his belt, the Serbian looks poised to take the next big step: a grand slam victory.

Meanwhile, across the continent on Sunday, Ana Ivanovic played with guts and guile to beat a steady Petrova. The new world #4 won her fourth title by winning the final points with authority: knocking a cross-court forehand past Petrova to open the game, then sending a serve out wide in the ad court to seal the victory for the title.

If Ivanovic's hiccup at the French taught us anything about the teen, it's that she isn't afraid to make mistakes. She followed her Paris performance up by belting her way to the semifinals of Wimbledon and now with a title in L.A. This week in Toronto, she is the defending champion at a tournament depleted of top-tier players; but to her, that is of no matter, she would gladly accept the title challenge with all of them there.

And that's what she'll do a few weeks from now in New York, when she attempts to climb up the final step on the ladder and win her first grand slam title. Much like Djokovic, Ivanovic will take on a field of hungry (and much more experienced) players for the a shot at the title. But if their upswings continue, both will find their place on top of the game very soon.

1 comment:

Erwin said...

When the summer started I really believed that Jelena Jankovic would be the first Serbian woman to take the U.S. Open (esp. after her win in Birmingham). But now she's disappeared somewhere in her head and Ana's taken her place. I wonder if she'll recover in time for New York?