Monday, 20 January 2014

Serena out to an inspired Ana

Ana Ivanovic, fresh from taking Sam Stosur out of the Aus Open but still retaining huge popularity in this country, had the slightly more difficult job of shifting Serena Williams from the singles draw in the fourth round encounter on the first Sunday.
While Serena had been a red hot favourite all the way through, and had not lost a set, her first part of the match against Hantuchova didn't inspire the greatest confidence.  I put that down to the excessive heat and the need for body preservation.
Ana, meanwhile, should never have been taken to three sets by Stosur - she had a break of serve in the first set and was the better player for the most part, and even in the tie break allowed Sam to escape the noose.  That match should have been straight sets Ana, so I rated Ivanovic (winner in Auckland) coming into the Williams match as a good workout for the number one seed.  Serena would win in straight sets was my prediction though and that wouldn't change.
What occurred early in the match was intriguing.  Ana played with a freedom but a discipline too, which enabled her to actually place Serena in longer rallies and give her flatter shots with which to contend at times in those exchanges.  Serena certainly didn't open proceedings with her usual aplomb, not moving as well, and serving two double faults.  Yes she held serve, but only after having to save multiple break points.  Ana looked sharp, and had two winners on the board already - she had indicated early and strongly that she intended to contend and not just participate in this match.
The first four games were shared and then Ana gave Serena on the scoreboard the sort of pressure she had already been providing in the initial stages of this contest.  Working Williams around, and returning the serve well when allowed, frustrated the number one into error and the service break came to the surprise of all - Ana was ahead 3-2.
Smarting from this Serena put Ana back into her box with a quick break back.  3-3 but something about the mood of the match, and Serena's demeanour, suggested the length of time back in her box would be limited for Ana.
The next three games were held with serve, and Ana had to repeat the dose at 4-5 to keep the set going.  That she failed gave Serena a bonus because for much of that stanza of the match, the top seed did not look totally in control. 6-4 Serena.

Deja vu as the first four games of set two showed all the reasons why these two had such a close set one tussle.  And yet again it was Ana taking the initiative in the fifth game to rip the halo of dominance around Serena off and send it floating down the Yarra.  The break occurred and for once we could see it consolidated.

Ana served beautifully for the occasion, and although Serena drew close, she couldn't stop the power of the delivery and the ancillary ground equipment from Serbia which was working a treat.  Ana led 4-2 and had more break points in the next game - she was amazingly monstering the Williams serve!
Serena held firm, but could not find a way through Ana's defence and at 3-5 the second set looked likely to go Serbia's way.
Ana did not need to serve out the set - yet more break points were created on Serena's serve in the ninth game, and on the third of these Serena wilted, committing the error which gave Ana Ivanovic the set 6-3 and levelled the fourth round match at a set all.

Serena was definitely a little lost now - not even serving first in the decider.  Ana was just serving better and better and before anyone could comment, the job was Serena's to try and draw level because for the first time since early in the match Ana now led.  1-0 in the third.

For the I think fourth straight service game in a row, Serena faced break points, and I cannot remember this having occurred in matches that I have seen this woman play.  Ana only required the first one to convert and at 2-0 the previously unthinkable was now turned on its head.  The question posed now was "Can Serena come back?"
Of course a ridiculous question when we knew the answer, but Ana was playing inspired tennis and it would take one of Serena's specials to find a path out of this one.

Serves were held for the next while, and nothing appeared to be changing in terms of the Ivanovic delivery - still as solid as ever - leading 5-2 and the door was fast shutting on Serena.
The Serena service game was full of drama including a code warning for time violation for Serena and the first match point at 30-40.  Serena overcame all the drama in this game, but the bottom line was Ana serving for a quarter final spot at 5-3.

Her serve had stayed true all match and did not let her down now at the most important time.  Ana Ivanovic defeated the queen of tennis in three sets in the fourth round of the 2014 Australian Open 4-6 6-3 6-3, but it was more comprehensive than that in my opinion.  Ana, like her match against Stosur, probably lost the first set after playing the better tennis.  However she would not be complaining about the method of reaching the quarter final - she made it and now must have elevated herself to a legitimate chance of winning the tournament, having made the final previously (six years ago though it may be)

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