Ana Ivanovic returns a shot to Anna Tatishvili on the Grandstand court on day two of the 2013 US Open at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. (Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports)
NEW YORK — Former world number one Ana Ivanovic made a strong start at the U.S. Open on Tuesday but said she was playing with a heavy heart after hearing about the drowning death of a childhood friend back home in Serbia.
Vukasin Ziramov, 25, died last week after jumping off a bridge into a river while on an outing with friends in Senta.
“It’s been very sad news,” Ivanovic, the 13th seed at Flushing Meadows, told reporters after her 6-2 6-0 rout of Anna Tatishvili of Georgia.
“It was very hard because it was almost like my relative. We grew up, and I knew him since we were kids. It’s very, very sad.”
On the court, Ivanovic showed the positive effects of working with a new Serbian conditioning and coaching team she took on after Wimbledon as she works her way back after a disappointing stretch in her career.
The 25-year-old Serb, who rose to the top ranking in women’s tennis in 2008 after winning the French Open, had dropped to 22 in the rankings in 2011.
Ivanovic ranked 15th heading to Flushing Meadows.
“I was playing really well and I had a few tough losses,” Ivanovic said about a hardcourt build-up that included a three-set loss to Victoria Azarenka in Carlsbad, a third-set tiebreaker loss to China’s Li Na in Toronto and a three-set loss France’s Alize Cornet in Cincinnati.
“I’m very confident with the game and the way I was playing,” she said, adding she was concentrating on conditioning and making her serve and forehand more dominant.
Ivanovic said she was driven to return to the upper echelon of the game.
“It’s my only goal I have at the moment,” she said. “I really want to get back to the top of the game. I believe I have qualities to do so.
“Once you’re in the top, you don’t really feel satisfied with being in the top 15. You really want to aim and push yourself. That’s where I am at. I really want to put my head down and work hard and try to maximize my potential.”
In men’s action, Wimbledon semi-finalist Jerzy Janowicz was showered with boos for serving underhand during his quick opening round exit from the U.S. Open on Tuesday.
Hampered by a back injury sustained in the gym on Saturday, the normally temperamental world number 14 from Poland hobbled through a 6-4 6-4 6-2 loss to world number 247 Maximo Gonzalez of Argentina.
Janowicz had 53 unforced errors, threw his water bottle on the court, argued with the umpire and earned the wrath of the crowd at Flushing Meadows when he resorted to serving underhand in the fifth game of the third set.
“On my push, I wouldn’t call it a serve, he hit two winners on my push, so I decided to try something else,” Janowicz said of the decision to serve underhand.
Janowicz’s normally powerful delivery was barely registering 100 miles per hour. He trudged around the court, making his feelings obvious, before he used the underhand delivery when the match was slipping away.
He said a request for pain killers in the third set was rejected since he had received a strong dose earlier on Tuesday.
“It was like being stabbed in the back by a knife,” the 22-year-old said of his injury. “I felt bad in my lower back. For three days I haven’t been able to practice, I could barely walk. I was in really good shape before this happened and that’s why I’m fricking disappointed.
“I was just working hard in the gymnasium when it happened. Today before the match I had injections, strong pain killers. But I couldn’t serve. I just couldn’t serve.”
Still, it was a more quiet departure from Janowicz than his stormy exit at the Australian Open in January.
Losing in the third round to India’s Somdev Devvarman at Melbourne Park, Janowicz spat at a ball mark and screamed at the umpire: “How many times? How many times?”
The YouTube clip from the incident at the Australian Open has attracted over 1 million views.
Janowicz said it was too early to tell if he would be available for next month’s Davis Cup tie against Australia.
During his charmed run at Wimbledon, Janowicz had been asked to describe the experience in one word. “Fun,” he said at the time.
Asked the same question about his U.S. Open appearance, he replied: “Disappointment.”