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Ivanovic's free fall continues


NEW YORK -- What we learned late on Day 2 at the U.S. Open as Ana Ivanovic continued her yearlong fall from No. 1 with a 2-6, 6-3, 7-6 loss to Kateryna Bondarenko ...

1. Even Ivanovic's opponents don't understand what is going on when she serves. Every time the 21-year-old threw the ball in the air for her first serve and caught it instead of serving, Bondarenko waited on the other side of the net and wondered, "Is she doing this on purpose or why would she do it so many times?" Ivanovic looked uncomfortable Tuesday, but she says the hesitations weren't intentional. In recent weeks she shortened her service swing to "protect her shoulder." She's been doing exercises with heavy balls to gain better feel, but her mechanics continue to squeak in need of oil. Her road to recovery begins with the serve. Until that's fixed, all eyes will be on her motions.

2. "I'm sure I will have sleepless nights," Ivanovic said afterward. As her forehand failed, her emotions varied. She turned away from the court in frustration, played with her hair and picked at her racket strings. When she hit a winner, she whirled in celebration. "I think I've been thinking too much," Ivanovic said. "I just don't trust myself like I did before." Since winning the French Open in 2008, her descent has been rapid and only gaining speed. At last year's U.S. Open, she became the first No. 1 to lose to a qualifier. She has not advanced past the fourth round of a Grand Slam since. Now ranked No. 11, she stands to fall even farther before she wakes up.

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3. Bondarenko beat Ivanovic on one good leg. The 23-year-old Ukrainian strained a muscle in her left thigh two weeks ago at the WTA stop in Toronto, and wrote it off to playing too many tournaments in too short a period. Throughout the match her hobble was noticeable as she dropped the first set and fell behind 3-1 in the third, but her box continuously shouted, "You can do it!" The rally offered the perfect balm.

4. The Karate Kid headband was new, but Maria Sharapova's game had some of the same old kick to it. Her serves were aggressive, her movement was fluid and her 6-0 second set against Tsvetana Pironkova carried the sentiment that she is nearing full strength again. Attacking the net from the first point, she delivered the bagel with blistering forehands on a court that played much faster than the one she last stepped on, in Toronto. A rematch of that tournament's final against Russian compatriot Elena Dementieva is a distinct possibility for the third round.