Commentary

Ivanovic unable to meet lofty expectations

Ana Ivanovic never fully recovered from the high of her first major title at the French Open. In the third round of Wimbledon on Friday, the world No. 1 showed little resistance in a 6-1, 6-4 loss to Zheng Jie.

Originally Published: June 18, 2008
By Ravi Ubha | Special to ESPN.com

Ana IvanovicIan Walton/Getty ImagesAna Ivanovic suffered her earliest exit at a Grand Slam event since the 2007 Australian Open.
WIMBLEDON, England -- When Ana Ivanovic played Nathalie Dechy in the second round at Wimbledon two days ago, she benefited from a net cord facing match point and ultimately escaped in a three-and-a-half hour epic.

There was no such luck on Friday.

Fresh off her maiden Grand Slam title at the French Open, the world No. 1 exited 6-1, 6-4 against feisty Chinese baseliner Zheng Jie, who only got into the tournament thanks to a wildcard after an ankle injury sent her ranking back more than 150 spots.

You could see this coming.

On Thursday, Ivanovic's unofficial coach, experienced Dutchman Sven Groeneveld, sounded hopeful, though not entirely confident, when asked if his pupil could bounce back from such a grueling encounter.

Let's not forget, too, that Ivanovic took time off post Roland Garros and pulled out of a grass-court warm-up in Eastbourne, England, claiming she was "mentally exhausted.''

So, just as quickly as she inherited the top ranking in early June, Ivanovic could be stripped of the No. 1 spot before Wimbledon ends. (More than a few scenarios have to happen, mind you.) She's the fourth women's top seed at Wimbledon to fail to make the final 16, the most recent being Martina Hingis seven years ago.

"It was a very emotional time the past couple of weeks,'' said Ivanovic, as articulate and graceful as ever. "So with my coaches, we tried to cut the practices to the minimum just to have time to recover a little bit and have some time for myself. That's something we thought that would be good. But we're going to maybe change that next time and spend more time on court trying to adjust to grass.''

It marked the third straight day of upsets at the All England Club, Novak Djokovic losing to a seemingly resurgent Marat Safin on Wednesday and an out-of-sorts Maria Sharapova sent packing by the flamboyant Alla Kudryavtseva on Thursday.

All of a sudden, the top half of the draw is looking good for two-time champ Serena Williams, a winner over sentimental favorite Amelie Mauresmo earlier on Friday. The highest remaining seed in her section is No. 4 Svetlana Kuznetsova, who never got past the quarterfinals here.

Ivanovic and Zheng were even in the winners to unforced errors ratio, although Zheng, hitting deep and flat as she scampered speedily on the baseline, took advantage of four of her seven break chances. Ivanovic went 1-for-7.

Armed with one of the biggest serves in the women's game, when she finds the range, Ivanovic put in what appeared to be a solid 67 percent of first deliveries. The 46 percent of points won behind those serves wasn't so solid.

"I found it hard to mix my serve,'' Ivanovic said. "She was reading my serves very well. Even when I tried to kick it and bounce the ball high, she was still there on the ball.''

Zheng wasn't about to disagree.

[+] EnlargeAna Ivanovic
AP Photo/Kevin Lamarque,POOLWith the loss, Ana Ivanovic might lose her No. 1 ranking by the time Wimbledon ends.
"I feel sometimes today [her] serve is no good,'' Zheng said in broken English. "I feel her serve today was just so-so. That gave me the chance to play more aggressive.''

When asked on Wednesday about the net cord against the unfortunate Dechy, Ivanovic uttered matter-of-factly that such things even themselves out.

She was right. The turning point of the second set was proof of that.

Zheng, relinquishing an early break, got it back when a cross-court Ivanovic backhand was called wide. Ivanovic challenged the call, with Hawk-Eye suggesting the ball was out by about a millimeter. Zheng staved off a break point in the next game to make it 4-2, then dropped a miserly two points combined in her final two service games.

An errant Ivanovic backhand on match point handed Zheng the honor of becoming the first Chinese player to defeat a reigning world No. 1.

Good timing, considering the Beijing Olympics, where Zheng is expected to line up in singles and doubles, are just around the corner.

The 2006 doubles winner in London with compatriot Yan Zi, Zheng watched Wimbledon from the sidelines last June due to the ankle injury. She credited her husband for sticking by her during her convalescence -- and beefing up her game.

Zheng, one of the smallest players on the tour at barely over 5-foot-4, won three titles prior to the injury and cracked the top 30 in August 2006.

"Very thanks to him because my serve is no good,'' she said. "He gave me the more support to practice my serve. I feel now it's much better. I can serve. I can have more winners. It's good for me.''

Ivanovic vowed to learn from the experience and likened her situation to compatriot Djokovic, who won his first Grand Slam title at the Australian Open in January.

"For sure, [Djokovic] had the goal to win in a Grand Slam,'' Ivanovic said. "So once you achieve that, you're like, 'OK,' so you have to set some other goals again. That's similar for me. You know, it's something I learned.''

Ravi Ubha is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.

London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com.