MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Coming off a resurgent season, Ana Ivanovic believed she could be one of the top contenders for the first Grand Slam of the year.
“I feel like I’m ready for the next step,” she said on the eve of the Australian Open.
Instead, Ivanovic was sent packing in the first round Monday amid a flurry of double faults, falling to No. 142-ranked Czech qualifier Lucie Hradecka 1-6, 6-3, 6-2.
After a dominant first set, the fifth-seeded Ivanovic began to appear increasingly nervous and a longtime flaw in her game resurfaced — her shaky service motion. She repeatedly caught her wayward ball tosses and double-faulted three times in a single game to drop serve in the second set.
As her frustrations mounted and the errors piled up, Ivanovic swiped her racket at the court, causing the top part to splinter. She finished with 10 double-faults and 30 unforced errors in the match.
“It’s really disappointing,” a teary-eyed Ivanovic said afterward. “You know, it’s probably the worst thing (that) could happen.”
It was quite a departure from Ivanovic’s career-reviving performance at the Australian Open last year when she stunned No. 1 Serena Williams in the fourth round to reach her first quarterfinal at Melbourne Park since her run to the 2008 final.
The Serbian star built on the momentum to capture four titles and win 58 matches — more match wins than any other woman on tour. She also finished the year at No. 5 in the rankings for the first time since 2008, the year she won her only Grand Slam title at the French Open.
Coming into 2015, Ivanovic wasn’t satisfied with just going deep at the Australian Open again — she wanted to vie for the title. With a new coach on board, fellow Serb Dejan Petrovic, Ivanovic told a pre-tournament news conference that she was feeling comfortable with her team and playing with confidence again.
She was also coming off a run to the final of the season-opening tournament in Brisbane, where she lost a tight three-setter to No. 2-ranked Maria Sharapova.
All of which makes her defeat to Hradecka tougher to deal with. It was her earliest loss at a Grand Slam since falling in the first round of the 2011 French Open.
After hitting a forehand into the net on match point, Ivanovic gave Hradecka a perfunctory hand shake, quickly gathered her bags and rushed off the court without even a wave to the crowd.
“It’s hard. There is no easy way to (get over it), but to get back on the court and back working really hard and try to see next challenge and next event,” she said. “It has to hurt, as well.”
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