On Monday, Ana Ivanovic talked about pressure as if it were a lost love.
“I realized how much I missed it and how it made me sharper, and, in some ways, more focused.
“Then I realized I wanted it back.”
At the L.A. Women’s Tennis Championships on Tuesday night in Carson, she played without it, at least the intense public kind, because the ranking “No. 1" is no longer in front of her name, and it hasn’t been since she had it for two stints of 12 weeks last year.
The opponent was Vania King, a Long Beach resident who the night before sang the national anthem at the Dodgers’ game.
The last person Ivanovic had played in a competitive match was Venus Williams at Wimbledon. That was 36 days ago.
At times, Ivanovic, now ranked No. 11, looked an effigy of the player who had a Grand Slam win and two other Slam finals appearances on her resume before she could legally drink in the U.S.
And at other times, the 21-year-old Serbian was overpowering, though her serve didn’t reach the 124-mph mark she once became known for.
Still, Ivanovic won a gritty match, 6-4, 4-6, 6-1, and had to hold off King, who came back from a 4-1 deficit in the first set to make it 5-4.
Ivanovic, who won this event in 2007 and is expected to meet No. 1-seeded (and No. 1-ranked) Dinara Safina in this year’s quarterfinals, had several long or wide returns, and twice balls bounced wildly off her racket, one even ricocheting behind her.
“I really felt content,” Ivanovic said after the match. “Vania’s serve was getting me frustrated, but otherwise I felt happy the way I was moving and playing.
“Obviously, it’s my first tournament, first match, so I really feel like I have lots of possibilities to build up from this. Overall, just happy to have victory and opportunity to play another match.”
Ivanovic’s coach Sven Groeneveld, who has worked with her for four years, said Ivanovic had to get out of her comfort zone because King was playing too well.
“Vania forced her to do that, so in a way it’s very nice to get through this match,” he said.
King has faced Ivanovic twice before, losing both times, and said in the beginning that the former No. 1 player was overpowering but that Ivanovic got a little bit nervous.
“You can tell on her face that she was getting a little bit agitated,” King said. “For her, it’s her first match of the tournament and people expect her to win.”
That part, the expectations, the pressure -- it has been a slow climb back to that for Ivanovic, who after finals appearances at the 2007 French Open, the ’08 Australian Open, and then a win at the ’08 French Open, seemed to be one of tennis’ premier talents.
Then, a combination of injuries, failures to advance beyond early rounds of major tournaments and several coaching changes left her at No. 11.
Wimbledon became her third Grand Slam this year in which she failed to advance beyond the third round. The loss to Williams was particularly disappointing because Ivanovic showed signs of her old self but landed awkwardly and injured her thigh. She couldn’t continue and left Centre Court in tears.
After that, she took a break from tennis.
“I think it was maybe a good thing, especially because Wimbledon was quite disappointing and quite painful,” she said Monday. “I really struggled after that for a while, so it was good to be away and forget and start fresh.”
Looking back, she has regrets about her efforts to do better, to regain her lost confidence.
“I maybe made a little mistake because when, all of the sudden, I wasn’t doing as well, I started looking for answers in all the wrong places,” she continued.
“I wanted to change things and improve or work in different areas instead of sticking with what felt good.”