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Three years have passed since Ana Ivanovic became the 17th women's tennis player to rise to No. 1 in the world. She was 20 years old at the time, having just won the 2008 French Open, and the expectations she set with that title inevitably were high.
Ivanovic has never come close to living up to those expectations or winning another Grand Slam event, and has drifted down to No. 18 in the rankings going into this week's Mercury Insurance Open in Carlsbad, Calif. But with a new coach and a new fitness trainer, she is hoping to make the climb back up again.
Ivanovic began working with Nigel Sears, the former head of women's coaching for the British Lawn Tennis Association, two weeks ago. She also is working once again with fitness trainer Scott Byrnes.
There is much work to be done. One week after Ivanovic started with Sears, she lost to Ayumi Morita in the first round of the Bank of the West Classic in Stanford, Calif., last week.
Carlsbad, where Ivanovic is seeded No. 5 and has a first-round bye, is the second of four consecutive tournaments she is scheduled to play in advance of the US Open at the end of the month. Ivanovic also is planning to compete next week at the Rogers Cup in Toronto, then at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati beginning Aug. 15.
This time, the expectations are not so high.
"I think there is a lot of good things that are coming out from these last couple weeks we've been working together, so I really want to apply them in my matches and put it together, and it's very hard to say how far I can reach and so on," she said in a telephone interview Monday. "But definitely, I want to perform well and I would love to win one of these tournaments coming up, but I don't want to put too-high goals for myself because I really have a lot of hard work yet to do."
The drop from the upper echelon has shaken Ivanovic's confidence, but she still believes she can be a top player again. And she'll appreciate the view a lot more the second time around, if she can make the climb back up.
"Many times I expected myself to do really well or win events when I wasn't in shape to do so," said Ivanovic, a 6-foot-1 brunette from Serbia who has posed for Sports Illustrated's swimsuit issue. "But I've learned a lot, and actually last two years have been kind of a good experience for me and now I can appreciate certain things more and I don't take wins for granted. So I think now when I get back to the top, once I manage to get here, I think I'll know how to handle it better."
Serenation: No. 79 with a bullet
The Top 10 stayed the same in the weekly WTA rankings, but there was one significant addition to the Top 100 this week. Serena Williams rocketed from No. 169 to No. 79 with her victory over Marion Bartoli on Sunday in the final of the Bank of America Classic.
Williams is still nowhere near the No. 1 ranking she has held for 123 weeks in her career, but she's getting a lot closer to the top of her game after missing most of a year with injuries and a pulmonary embolism. Williams plowed through No. 5-ranked Maria Sharapova, Wimbledon semifinalist Sabine Lisicki and Bartoli, who beat her in the fourth round at Wimbledon, to win at Stanford.
And in the process, Williams sent a message to the rest of the tour: She's on her way back. But Williams, who has played in only three tournaments over the past year, said she's not quite there yet.
"There are still shots I'm not going for and not making that I know I can make once I get more confident and more match play -- I'll be able to make those,'' she said in the postmatch interview. "It's encouraging to me that I can do more, I can do better."
Williams will have a few more opportunities to hone her game before the US Open at the end of the month. She's scheduled to play in the Rogers Cup and at Cincinnati.
Safina out for the year
Former World No. 1 Dinara Safina of Russia announced Monday she will be out the rest of 2011 with a back injury. She broke the news on her website.
"Hey everybody," Safina wrote, "I'm sorry to report that my back is still acting up and I will not be able to play until at least the end of the year."
Safina, 25, had to retire from a quarterfinal match with Victoria Azarenka at Marbella, Spain, in April, then fell to Julia Goerges in the second round of the Madrid Open in early May. Safina has not played since then and withdrew from the French Open and Wimbledon because of the injury.
Safina, who was No. 1 for 26 weeks in 2009 when she reached the finals at both the Australian Open and French Open and the semifinals at Wimbledon, has dropped to No. 65 in the rankings this week.
She has struggled with back injuries since 2008.