The Tennis Phile

January 21, 2010 5:50 AM


Tennis, with the exception of boxing, is the most naked of all sports, literally and figuratively. There's no equipment or other player to hide behind if one wants to conceal their emotions. Joy and sorrow are openly expressed, whether one likes it or not. Unless a poker face is part of one's repertoire, those watching a match can usually tell what is happening by watching a player's body language and countenance.


And when one is a fan of a player, seeing he or she struggle with emotions and not able to play one's best, a nearly parental instinct takes over. It's like watching your child cry - sometimes there's just nothing you can do to help and it hurts too much to watch.


This was all too true in Melbourne on Thursday when 20th ranked Ana Ivanovic, the strikingly attractive and talented Serbian, lost a difficult but all too familiar second round match 6-7, 7-5, 6-4 to Gisele Dulko, a player to whom she is clearly superior.


And the entire range of the emotional spectrum was etched - make that carved - into Ivanovic's face during the match. After winning a tight first set, Ivanovic was deeply betrayed by the stroke which is usually the culprit in her breakdowns, her serve. Broken nine times and unable to find a consistency with her toss, Ivanovic's attempt to return to her peak form (she won the French Open at the age of 20 in 2008) was derailed all too early for a Grand Slam event.


Witnessing a top player grind so mightily while grappling with a meltdown with that most important of shots was a sight that any recreational player could easily relate to. Which is why it's hard not to feel for Ivanovic as she seeks to reclaim her once potent game.


Maybe she's too thoughtful and well rounded for her own good; in addition to being one of the best players in the world Ivanovic is also pursuing a college degree and is an active UNICEF ambassador, receiving accolades from the US State Department on the way. Or perhaps her romance with Australian golf pro Adam Scott has affected her game (both of their rankings plummeted after going together)?


Whatever the case, women's tennis is better when Ivanovic is in the mix at major tournaments. She should be one of the four or five players always talked about in a Slam. And being so young - 22 - at least time is on her side.


A Member Of