Ivanovic free fall not slowing down

March, 31, 2010
3/31/10
7:48
PM ET


The final weekend of the Sony Ericsson Open approaches -- without Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray. Federer's early defeats in Indian Wells and Miami shouldn't come as much of a surprise, given his recent illness. And he still had match points in both.

The form of Murray and Djokovic is a cause for some concern, however.

Order was restored in the women's draw, with the sizzling Venus Williams joined by the Belgian comeback queens in the semifinals.

Here are five things we have learned from Miami thus far.

1. It's will be a long climb for Ana

Here's Ana Ivanovic after she snapped a four-match losing streak, discussing her new coach Heinz Gunthardt, who used to guide Steffi Graf: "With Heinz, I can see the improvements actually on a daily basis. It's very encouraging. Now I'm surrounded with really good people. I'm very excited and motivated to play again and to get to the top."

The Serb said much the same thing after hiring Craig Kardon, formerly in the corner of Martina Navratilova, about this time last year and heaped praise on the folks at adidas in winning the French Open two years ago.

Ivanovic's joy was short lived. She fell in the second round in Miami to wily Pole Agnieszka Radwanska, 7-5, 7-5, not a match for the purists. There were nine breaks in the opening set, in which Ivanovic also coughed up four double faults. Ivanovic blew a 3-0 lead in the second.

Ivanovic, down to 58th in the rankings, then announced she was skipping Serbia's crucial Fed Cup world group playoff against the Slovak Republic at the end of April, putting all the pressure on the slightly rejuvenated Jelena Jankovic.

"After all that has happened lately, it's not the right time for me to be part of the team," Ivanovic said in a statement on her Web site.

Is it a case of when, or if, Ivanovic can return to the top 10?

2. A day makes a world of difference

Pummeled by Tomas Berdych in an hour in Indian Wells, Fernando Verdasco needed to bounce back in Florida. Although he might never really threaten at a Grand Slam again -- 13 straight losses to top-10 foes in 2009 after the Australian Open suggest as much -- hand it to the Spaniard for hanging in there against Jurgen Melzer in the third round.

Verdasco, vociferously backed by the crowd on Court 2, escaped 3-6, 7-6 (4), 6-1. The serve always has been a problem for Verdasco, and he let fly with 12 double faults.

Without a sniff on the Melzer serve most of the first two sets, Verdasco saved all five break points he faced in the second. One has to go down as one of the points of the year. Melzer had Verdasco out of position and, being the good volleyer he is, came forward. A drop backhand volley looked like it would give the talented (yet erratic) Austrian the point, but Verdasco, not known for his speed around the court, got there and clubbed a backhand that left Melzer with little chance.

Shortly after Melzer choked on a forehand with an open court on another break chance, Verdasco took the second set. Melzer predictably crumbled in the third.

Verdasco then comfortably disposed of world No. 9 Marin Cilic to reach the quarterfinals. Cilic has wobbled since an 18-2 start to 2010, ousted in the second round at Indian Wells.

Wonder whether Ivanovic and Verdasco discussed their serves when they were a couple.

3. Djokovic is out of sorts

Tired at the end of last season, Djokovic took a break. Tired after Indian Wells, the world No. 2 visited Los Angeles, taking in Universal Studios and the like.

He gets tired too quick. That's pretty evident, especially when compared to Federer, Rafael Nadal, Murray and Andy Roddick. When one prominent coach (who didn't want to be named) said earlier this year that Djokovic didn't prepare as well as other guys, it came as no surprise.

Fitness aside, there's still no sign of the serve clicking.

In his past nine ATP encounters, Djokovic has faced almost 10 break points per match, and we're talking hard courts. He conceded 15 in a second-round loss to Olivier Rochus last week.

Djokovic said he was "working on it" when asked whether there was something technical wrong with the serve.

That's a lot for Todd Martin and Marian Vajda to work on.

Could Rafael Nadal be heading into the clay-court season in better form than Federer, Murray and Djokovic? Who would have thought that a month ago?

4. Gasquet is messed up

One sleeping giant, Berdych, awoke in Miami. Actually, you might include Nicolas Almagro, too. Another, Richard Gasquet, remains in hibernation.

The shackles were supposed to be off when Gasquet was cleared of wrongdoing following a positive test for cocaine that revolved around a certain "Pamela." And the season started well enough, with the Frenchman reaching a quarterfinal and final in his first two events. Since then, Gasquet has gone a dismal 1-6, the downward spiral sparked by another five-set loss at the Australian Open.

In what seemed like a strange pairing, Gasquet teamed up with Argentine Gabriel Markus and decided to play the Latin American clay-court swing.

Gasquet fell to Rochus in the first round in Miami, going 4-for-12 on break points. The generously listed 5-foot-6 Rochus, described by James Blake as pound for pound one of the best athletes in the world, went 2-for-2.

The toast of the town in Melbourne last year, French men have fallen on hard times. Gael Monfils, mediocre outside France, withdrew from Miami with a bad wrist; Gilles Simon, hampered by knee problems for much of the past 12 months, exited in an hour in his opener.

Gasquet geared up for the European clay-court season by practicing with countryman Paul-Henri Mathieu, recently back from knee and groin injuries, at Roland Garros this week.

5. Bagels aren't so tasty

And here we thought Alicia Molik was doing so well on her comeback.

Molik, who joined the ranks of the unretired in 2009, picked up steam by reaching the fourth round in Indian Wells and was conquered by the scrappy Zheng Jie in a third-set tiebreaker.

But the former top-10 Aussie got blanked 6-0, 6-0 by Agnes Szavay in the second round in 50 minutes. Molik won 18 points.

More numbers: Sabine Lisicki still can't catch a break. A lingering ankle injury forced the German slugger to retire in the second round -- after she called it quits in the second round in Indian Wells. For the record, Lisicki has retired five times since the start of 2009.

The marathon of the tournament, so far, featured Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Tamira Paszek, a prospect not so long ago, in the second round. Pavlyuchenkova advanced in 3 hours, 13 minutes.

Gifted Russian Mikhail Youzhny persevered to oust Stan Wawrinka, 1-6, 7-6 (5), 7-5 in the third round. In an ugly first set, Youzhny hit one winner -- and made 15 unforced errors.

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