Mid-term report

Mid-term report

With the season past its halfway mark, we take a look at Ana’s year so far

Including the Hopman Cup – which is owned by the ITF so is not part of her Sony Ericsson WTA Tour record – Ana has won 23 matches and lost 13 this year.

“I played some very good matches and some not so good ones. I still have many, many things to improve,” said Ana, whose ranking has fluctuated between 16 and 23 during 2006.

The season began brightly as Ana, who was wearing adidas clothing for the first time after her recent endorsement deal, won two of her three singles matches at the Hopman Cup. She then defeated then-world No.3 Amelie Mauresmo for a second time at the Medibank International in Sydney before losing to Svetlana Kuznetsova, who had beaten her a week earlier, in the quarter-finals.

Ana then suffered her biggest personal disappointment of the year when she was defeated in the second round of the Australian Open by Samantha Stosur. “I think I put too much pressure on myself,” said the 18-year-old.

Tokyo was Ana’s next destination. She reached the quarter-finals of the Toray Pan Pacific Open, where she was beaten by her doubles partner Maria Kirilenko. The pair played their first tournament together and reached the semi-finals.

The action moved onto the European indoor season and Ana played well in Antwerp’s Proximus Diamond Games, but could do nothing against an on-song Nadia Petrova, who gave one of the best serving displays seen on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour this year.

Next came the American hard court swing. Making her first appearance in Indian Wells, Ana reached the quarter-finals without dropping a set and some stunning play saw her lead fourth seed Elena Dementieva 6-2, 1-0 with a break, before the experienced Russian hit back to win it in three.

A long flight to the east coast followed for the Nasdaq-100 Open in Miami. Before the tournament started Ana was named Most Improved Player for 2005 at the Stars for Stars professional tennis awards. “Wow! This is such a great honour,” said a visually surprised Ana, who had not been told of her win before the announcement was made on stage.

It was one of several accolades that Ana has won this year. Others include being named journalists’ favourite player at the Fed Cup and finishing second in ACE Magazine’s Hot List, a survey of the best-looking players.

On-court, Ana again justified her seeding. She reached the fourth round of the Nasdaq-100 Open, where she lost to Mauresmo, who by this point had become world No.1.

The Fed Cup by BNP Paribas dominated April. Ana made her debut appearance in the competition but Serbia and Montenegro suffered an agonising defeat in the play-off tie against Israel. Ana won both her singles matches in the round-robin ties but was defeated by current world No.24 Shahar Peer in the final, before Israel won the deciding doubles rubber 10-8 in the third set.

Ana’s next event, the J&S Cup in Warsaw, saw her competing for the first time without a coach. She had split with Zoltan Kuharsky, the Hungarian who had coached her since October 2004, by mutual consent shortly before the tournament.

Even though she was on her own, Ana recorded her best result of the year as she thrashed Patty Schnyder, the second seed against whom she had not won a set in four previous matches, 6-3, 6-2. “I really believed in myself,” said Ana at the time. “This win means a lot to me.”

She suffered a small letdown in her next match and lost to Anna Chakvetadze in the quarter-finals. Meanwhile in the doubles event, Ana and Kirilenko reached their second successive semi-final together.

Ana took the form from the Schnyder match to the Qatar Total German Open in Berlin. She was virtually unplayable during the opening set of her first round match against China’s Na Li, which she won 6-1, but suffered a minor muscle tear in her left thigh. In immense pain, Ana was forced to retire during the first game of the second set.

It was a very unfortunate occurrence because the 18-year-old had been in such good form. However, she was grateful that she was able to recover in time for the French Open, and took full advantage by exacting emphatic revenge on Stosur. Ana won 6-0, 6-3 with one of her best ever performances.

Another comprehensive win in the second round followed, but tenth seed Anastasia Myskina was masterful in round three and put Ana out. “She just played great tennis,” said Ana. “I have to give her credit.”

Sven Groeneveld, former mentor of British No.1 Greg Rusedski, acted as Ana’s temporary coach at Roland Garros as part of his employment with adidas. Before the event the 18-year-old took part in the filming of a commercial for women’s tennis title sponsor Sony Ericsson and another advertisement for Aqua Viva, a bottled water producer in Serbia.

Ana went to Wimbledon via Rosmalen in Holland, where she reached the quarter-finals of the Ordina Open. She was beaten by Dementieva again but was consoled by an appearance in the doubles final, again alongside Kirilenko.

At the All England Club Ana scored an important victory in round three against world No.16 Dinara Safina. It was a stirring comeback by the teenager, who had trailed 6-3, 4-2. “I’m really pleased I took the opportunities,” said Ana.

Top seed Mauresmo was waiting in the fourth round and the Frenchwoman beat Ana 6-3, 6-4. “That’s why she is No.1,” said Ana after the 26-year-old’s impressive display.

Despite the defeat – and a first round exit in the doubles with Kirilenko – Wimbledon was a positive tournament for Ana. Her win over Safina was important in light of the earlier near misses, and it was the first time that she had reached the second week of the Championships.

“It has been a little bit difficult for me on the court because I haven’t had a coach, and I also I got injured which was frustrating,” said Ana when asked to sum up the last few months.

“But I am feeling very positive about the coming months. Wimbledon gave me a lot of self-confidence and I am excited about playing on the hard courts in America,” added Ana, who is expected to make an announcement about her new coach shortly.

By Gavin Versi