August 12, 2010

Misery Loves Company

There's a lot to be said about finding solace in colleagues who know what you've been through. And when two former #1 tennis players find themselves free-falling in the rankings, that's just what they did.

Now I won't be in Cincinnati until next week, but from what I gather from everyone's tweets over the last few hours, the blossoming friendship between 2008 French Open finalists Ana Ivanovic and Dinara Safina was a major topic of conversation at the ladies' press conferences yesterday.

"The first time we practiced together was in Wimbledon," Ivanovic said after her win on Wednesday. "After that, we practiced a couple times in San Diego and then Stanford as well as here. She's a really nice girl. We sort of hung out a little more, and talked a little about just stuff in general. We're like, 'Ah, come on, let's play a final again!' So it's good to inspire each other."

In fact, the last time they met in competition, ironically, was at that fateful championship match more than two years ago. Since then they've had strangely similar carreer paths -- Ana hasn't won a title since and has seen her ranking fall as far as #58 in the world while Safina, whose injury-related troubles only started more recently, hasn't won more than two matches at an event since Melbourne. A year ago at the Western & Southern Financial Group Women's Open, Ivanovic was just outside the top ten, and world #1 Dinara was made the finals with wins over Kim Clijsters and Flavia Pennetta -- this year, neither of them is even seeded.

If either of them has a hope of making a quick rebound to the sport's elite, it certainly looks like Ana has the more immediate hope. With her second round victory she's already bettered her performance from last year, and she soundly defeated her next opponent, Elena Vesnina, during her other somewhat successful run in Rome back in May.

Safina, on the other hand, crashed out of her rematch with Clijsters Wednesday night, a result that should send her tumbling to a ranking of seventy or lower. But she doesn't begrudge her accomplice any success: "I just wish her really good luck. I knew she's been going through tough moments, so that she comes back because she's really playing good."

It can't be easy to endure one loss after another, especially after you'd gotten so used to winning, so it certainly helps to have the support and well-wishes of those around you. Maybe each other's encouragement is what these girls need to make that push to the top. We'll see how well it works for Ana this week, and hopefully for Dinara at coming events.

And who knows, this time next year they could be laughing at us all for ever doubting them!

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