CINCINNATI, OH, USA - After a strong 2014 season that saw her finish back inside the Top 10 for the first time since 2009, Ana Ivanovic has struggled to recapture that form. A mid-season coaching switch has reunited her with Nigel Sears, her coach from 2011 to 2013, but Ivanovic's biggest concern at the moment isn't tactics or technique. It's fitness.
"I felt like if I managed to have a little more strength on my serve towards the end of second and third set it could help me close out the match," Ivanovic said. "But that's something that I obviously have to improve in order to beat her and to score the victory against these kind of players."
This has been a common refrain for the Serb throughout the year, after a broken toe in January derailed her early season. She's been trying to play catch-up ever since, but with the relentless nature of the tour, finding an extended block of time for physical training is nearly impossible during the season. On Friday she was physically laboring through the final set of the match, where she led 2-0 but lost the last six games.
"I felt like it was a little bit story of the year for me," Ivanovic said. "I have been always trying to catch up. It was really unfortunate with that broken toe; for two or three months I couldn't work at all. I felt like I could never catch up because there are tournaments all the time. I was always trying to do few days here and there. I was not getting enough match fitness, as well."
At this point last season, Ivanovic had 62 matches under her belt. This year she's played just 34, which the honest and good-natured Serb admitted was due to her inability to win enough matches to go deep at tournaments. Despite her struggles with consistency, Ivanovic came close to making her first Slam final since 2008 when she made a run to the French Open semifinals.
"I'm still working hard on it," Ivanovic said of her fitness. "I think this week will help me to still improve. And obviously the off-season will be important."
Asked if there might be a time between now and the end of a season wherein she might be able to fit in a training block, Ivanovic shook her head. "No, I try to do the best with the situation I'm in, and to work hard now for these 10 days or week that I have. There is Asia coming up straight after US Open, so there is not much room."
For now, Ivanovic says she's drawing inspiration from Rafael Nadal. "The only expectations I have is to give my best every time I step on court. It's not always going to be the result maybe I hope for. Maybe it will be better. But I can't see that. I can only do my best each day. Such a good example for that is Rafa, I feel. Every time he gives his best. It's not always the result, but sometimes you have to go through that."