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Summer tennis circuit still looks fresh to Ivanovic

August 06, 2007|Diane Pucin | Times Staff Writer

The top-seeded player at the East West Bank Classic tournament, which begins today at the Home Depot Center, is Maria Sharapova, who is fresh off a dominating run to the Acura Classic championship at Carlsbad.

Elena Dementieva is the defending champion and is playing with renewed vigor after recovering from a freak training accident in which she broke three ribs. Seeded second is Jelena Jankovic, who comes to Carson with a bit of something to prove. She suffered a sluggish upset loss to Maria Kirilenko last week at Carlsbad because she had a cold.

But while most of the top seeded players have already played a tournament or two or three this summer and are starting to feel the niggling aches and pains that come from the pounding on hard courts and the grind of a long season, third-seeded Ana Ivanovic is eager to start hitting some balls.

It has been a revelatory season for the 19-year-old from Serbia. She marched into the final of the French Open where her day in the limelight was made short by the dominating finesse of champion Justine Henin. She followed that up with a Wimbledon semifinal appearance in which she was not at all embarrassed to be beaten by champion Venus Williams, 6-2, 6-4.

"I had a very good period this summer," Ivanovic said Saturday in Manhattan Beach after the tournament draw was held. "Because I've been playing on the tour now so much my game has improved a lot. I've had good wins over top players, and now I know I can do anything."

Ivanovic hasn't played since Wimbledon. She has been nursing a right knee injury. "I had a slight tear," she said. "So for two weeks I couldn't play any tennis."

Her time off wasn't a complete waste. She signed her first major sponsorship deal with a car import company in Serbia. Besides the endorsement money she received her first free car.

"A Peugeot," Ivanovic said. "I haven't hardly been home to drive it. But it is nice because I can see the Serbian people chose to invest in a Serbian player."

Ivanovic learned the game and earned her toughness by playing in Belgrade even while a war went on. She and Jankovic would play on the bottom of an Olympic-sized pool. Because no one could maintain the pool, some tennis coaches drained the water, put down some carpet and made it into the highest-walled outdoor tennis court anywhere.

Now Ivanovic trains in sunny Barcelona where the clay courts are perfectly groomed and the hard courts aren't pock-marked or carpeted. She says her knee feels strong again and that her confidence has not ebbed since her Grand Slam success.

"I'm so ready to play," she said. "Let's go."

diane.pucin@latimes.com

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