Serb drawcard on comeback trail not just a pretty face

Tennis drawcards don't come much bigger than Ana Ivanovic.

The Serb, who attracts equal attention on the court and outside the lines, will add an extra layer of allure to an Auckland ASB Classic field already full of ability when the tournament begins on Monday.

Locals will be hoping for a deep run from Kiwi Marina Erakovic, while Venus Williams, one of the sport's true greats, will be sure to see fans flock to Stanley St. But Ivanovic has the X-factor that makes this tournament the most anticipated in years.

The 26-year-old arrived in Auckland on Thursday night and, after having dinner with her parents on the waterfront, she enjoyed her first hit-out on a "cosy little centre court" yesterday.


Both supporters and tournament organisers will be hoping for a few more of those next week, with the second seed one of the favourites to claim the event. Because that's the thing about Ivanovic - she has the talent to justify all the fanfare and endorsements. While she was touted as "the next Anna Kournikova" as early as 2007, Ivanovic has achieved much more than attaining the crown of the sport's glamour girl.

Eleven career titles, US$10 million ($12.25 million) in earnings, the 2008 French Open title, a former world No1 ranking - Ivanovic is far from just a pretty face.

And, despite enduring something of a slump after her breakthrough Grand Slam victory, she comes to Auckland at No16 in the world and primed to force her way back into the top 10.

"I do feel I'm a more complete player than I was [in 2008]," Ivanovic said yesterday. "I feel I've improved a lot of areas of my game.

"But it's also about getting back there and enjoying the competition ... I do think the standard of women's tennis has improved over the years."

That belief is certainly borne out by personal results. Since winning at Roland Garros, Ivanovic has made only one Grand Slam quarter-final, a 2012 US Open defeat to Serena Williams. She slipped as low as 65th in the world rankings and last tasted WTA success in 2011.

But with the capricious world of women's tennis - in which Serena Williams is the only player since 2007 to win more than one Grand Slam in a calendar year - it is hardly beyond the realm of possibility for Ivanovic to again become a contender.

If that is to transpire as early as next month's Australian Open, it will begin next week at the ASB Classic, where she is hoping to implement some changes to her game.

"I've been working a lot on my volleys and serve and approach, as well as little things around my forehand and backhand," she said. "I'm just trying to improve, obviously, and to get my game to a higher level. I feel like I did a lot of that in the off season, but obviously the tournaments are coming up and hopefully I'll manage to put that on the match court."

Ahead of tomorrow's draw, Ivanovic certainly made it sound like Auckland would be perfect preparation for the opening Grand Slam of the year.

"I just had a good time in Melbourne - I was there for about 10 days training - and everyone was saying that it was a lot cooler here. But it's not - it's actually very hot. I'm very excited because it's the first time I've come to Auckland and I've heard many nice things about the event."

The public will be equally excited about her presence, hopeful she will avoid the unseeded Williams for as long as possible.

But the seven-time Grand Slam champion is just one of a number of potential roadblocks on the path to the final. There is the only woman with a higher world ranking than Ivanovic - tournament top seed Roberta Vinci - as well as fellow top-20 player Kirsten Flipkens.

"It's a tough field and, especially the first event of the year," Ivanovic said. "You really want to assess the way everyone's playing and what everyone's form is and you obviously want to get some matches. It'll be a tough match no matter who I play, but I feel up to the challenge."

Britain's Laura Robson was yesterday forced to withdraw through injury. It was a blow for organisers after fourth seed Elena Vesnina pulled out last week but, with Ivanovic at the top of the billing, there is still plenty of star power.

Classic contenders

Ana Ivanovic - Ivanovic, the ASB Classic's second seed, is a glamour girl of the WTA circuit but with the game to match, having won 11 career titles.
• Age: 26
• Nation: Serbia
• World ranking: 16
• Career: Former world No1, 2008 French Open winner

Sacha Jones - It will be the Auckland-born Jones' first ASB Classic appearance since switching allegiance and possibly her last, with injury-enforced retirement looming.
• Age: 23
• Nation: Australia
• World ranking: 291
• Career: First round at 2013 Australian Open

Venus Williams - Probably the biggest name to ever play the tournament, only younger sister Serena has more Grand Slam titles among active women's players.
• Age: 33
• Nation: United States
• World ranking: 48
• Career: Seven-time Grand Slam champ, 44 titles

Roberta Vinci - Vinci last played at the ASB Classic in 2012 and, at No14 in the world, she takes the tournament's top seed ahead of the bigger names.
• Age: 30
• Nation: Italy
• World ranking: 14
• Career: Three-time Grand Slam doubles champion

Marina Erakovic - Erakovic, long the local hope in Auckland, was knocked out in the second round last year. She may have more chance in the doubles with Cara Black.
• Age: 25
• Nation: New Zealand
• World ranking: 47
• Career: Seven WTA titles, 2013 WTA singles champion