BRISBANE INTERNATIONAL – Ana Ivanovic had it, didn’t she? During 2008, she and Maria Sharapova were in the final of Australia Open and they both had ripped the ball over the past two weeks. Sharapova had never been as confident before then, smacking apart four excellent players to reach the final: Lindsay Davenport, Elena Dementieva, Justine Henin and Jelena Jankovic without even losing a set.
She was just 21 years old, had won two Grand Slams but wanted another more. Badly, but so did Ivanovic.
Ivanovic was just 20 years old then, but she was already pushing very hard. She had reached the 2007 Roland Garros final and you could tell that she was right there. Six months later in January, she was ready to roll. She took out the very young Caroline Wozniacki in the fourth round, shocked Venus Williams in the quarters and then played very smart in upsetting Daniela Hantuchova 6-4 in the third in the semis.
Ivanovic was ready to win her first major.
“I remember that match, very vividly,” Ivanovic told Tennisreporters.net. “I felt like I had a lot of chances in the first set. It was my second Grand Slam final and I really thought I could do it, you know. It was quite disappointing the way the second set finished. I remember it was 6‑3. I didn’t really sleep much after that. That was tough loss, but it made my stronger. After this I won Indian Wells and French Open.”
She did, shaking it off and winning her first huge title at Indian Wells and grabbing on clay and her first (and only) first Grand Slam by winning Roland Garros.
But she’s still thinking about it. It has been six years, since Ivanovic’s challenge was to sneak in, change it up, get into Sharapova’s head. But she did not. She had some key points in the first set, had a couple of looks right in front of her but she could not convert. Sharapova was more powerful, more composed and a bit smarter.
Sharapova won the title 7-5 6-3. Ana cried all night long while No. 1 Maria could smile up and down the street. Ivanovic admits that she was in there for the taking, that she felt like she would win it. Uh uh.
“Yeah, definitely. The year before against Justine in French Open [in 2007] it was first time and the nerves overwhelm me,” Ivanovic said. “Against Maria I really felt confident going into the match, and all the way through I felt like I could do it. That’s why it was really, really tough loss for me.”
Ivanovic is so much more mature now. She has had her ups and down since 2009, when she went down, but she battled and battled and, since 2014, she been much more consistent. She has cracked the top 5 and now will play a final again, when she plays Sharapova in Brisbane.
Here, this week, she bested two tough foes, Kai Kanepi and Varvara Lepchenko. She didn’t panic, but knew that she could mix and match. Or just swinging her favored forehand super hard.
“I really feel I have different mental approach to it,” Ivanovic said. “I struggled to be in the spotlight. For me, this is something to take time, to get used to because I was very shy. It was really overwhelming for me and all the pressures. I always play tennis as a game and not all these pressures and expectations.
“It takes time to learn about yourself, to mature. Now I really try to take my time and enjoy on the court and off the court. The time I spend on court it’s more quality. I really focus 100% on that. And then when I’m off the court I can relax and enjoy.
“This is something that I was lacking in the past, because coaches really tried to control and I didn’t feel like I had time for myself. It was all about tennis and just spending time on court or this.
“I felt like I had no time to go to movies with friends, you know, and this is what every person needs. So I really feel since maybe year and a half I found this balance. Then obviously it takes time for things to get in place and change, and I really feel I found that now.”
Sharapova is 9-4 head to head against Ivanovic, but the two split their matches in 2014. Ivanovic pulled out a classic win over Sharapova, 7-5 in the third set of Cincy. Perhaps they will do it again.
“Yeah, I enjoy playing against top players and having these kind of battles, because that’s what you want to test yourself against,” Ivanovic said. “She’s in great form. Last year we had really close battles, and that match in Cincinnati was actually one of my favorite wins probably because it was really tough match and I managed to save match points and actually win.
“So it’s going to be I think a great tennis for both of us tomorrow to also see the level of the game we are at. But I look forward to it.”
The Aussie had a good week for the guys, but once they faced the top men the going got too tough. Roger Federer destroyed Aussie James Duckworth 6-0 6-1, and will face Grigor Dimitrov, who cruised Martin Klizan 6-3 6-4. Kei Nishikori was terrific in beating Aussie Bernard Tomic 6-0 6-4, while Milos Raonic overcame the Aussie Samuel Groth 7-6 in the third.
Dimitrov believes he has a good shot against Federer and appears to be very confident. But he actually has to do it, rather than just pretending.
“It’s very close and I am excited against players like him,” Dimitrov said. “I am looking forward to it. It’s not going to be an easy. I have quite experience now and I have learned every match. I’ve played against him and I like my odds. I have had more wins and performing, more experience of tournaments and at 30-30 or deuce, or you know how to play better, or the structure of the game is different. I am sure he is going to be on the other side.”