The summer hard court season is set to kick off again and this year’s WTA events could see some intriguing storylines develop before the women converge on New York in late August. Last summer, many thought Elena Dementieva would finally win her maiden Slam based on her title run in Toronto. Instead the Russian got upended by a “kid” in Melanie Oudin who would have been the story of the summer had she not been trumped by the “comeback mom”, Kim Clijsters, who shocked the tennis world by winning the U.S Open. But this summer’s biggest story may well be how the current world No. 65, Ana Ivanovic, fares on the hard courts. If it turns out to be another summer of struggle for the Serb, will her value as a marquee player remain or fade into memory?
Ivanovic appears to be getting much love from tournament organizers who are willing to grant the former No. 1 wildcards and even direct entry into the main draw despite her ranking hovering around the low 60’s right now. The Bank of the West Classic in Stanford gave Ivanovic a wildcard while Ivanovic is listed as part of the main draw at the Mercury Insurance Open in San Diego. You can’t blame either of these events for wanting Ivanovic as she still enjoys a loyal fan base and high name recognition among casual fans even if some of it has to do with her continued part-time modeling for Sports Illustrated and other magazines. But aside from a semifinal run in Rome and Brisbane, Ivanovic has consistently lost in the early rounds at most of the events she’s entered in 2010. New coach Heinz Gunthardt does seem to be making progress with his charge, but it’s not clear yet if Ivanovic will improve enough to find herself back in the top 30 let alone contend for the top 10 again.
Ivanovic, the former French Open champion, isn’t defending a lot of points from last summer which was also a disaster that saw her dumped out in the first round of the U.S. Open, so even a modest run at one of the big lead-up events could help her confidence and ranking tremendously. But if this hard court season becomes a repeat of 2009, how much longer can tournament organizers continue to favor the popular Serb if other players are ranked higher than her and deserve direct entry into events as well? Sure there’s always wildcards, but I don’t think many fans want to keep seeing Ivanovic lose early to top players over and over. It’s sort of like watching a car wreck in slow motion. It’s fascinating at first, but after a few times you have to look away.
Many would like to see the good-natured Ivanovic resume her winning ways as her name does add value to any event she attends. But if her losing streak continues and her ranking drops, the tour will have to reward those other players, though not as well known, who are playing well. And for a tour that still needs “one-name” players to get attention and ticket sales, I’m sure they are hoping that this scenario doesn’t come to pass.