Birthday Joy For Ana in Madrid
MADRID, Spain - Ana Ivanovic received the perfect 20th birthday present on Tuesday when she edged out Svetlana Kuznetsova in a thrilling three-set battle at the Sony Ericsson Championships. Joining the young Serb in the winner's enclosure at the $3-million event in the Spanish capital, were Justine Henin and Maria Sharapova.
Ivanovic came racing out of the blocks in her round robin clash with Kuznetsova, breaking the No.2 seed in the opening game before repeating the trick two more times to wrap up the opening set in style. The No.4 seed started the second set as she finished first, moving into an early 3-0 lead, but from here her Russian opponent displayed the qualities which have seen her rise to No.2 in the world rankings by reeling off six of the next seven games to level the match up.
Once more it was Ivanovic who made the brighter start in the decider, capitalizing on a sloppy service game from Kuznetsova to gain an early advantage. However, yet again Kuznetsova came roaring back to set up a grandstand finish. The duo were in inspired form and produced some magical rallies for the crowds inside the Recinto Ferial Casa de Campo, but it was Ivanovic who held her nerve, saving two break points to win a titanic 11th game before breaking to love, thus securing a 61 46 75 win.
"In the first set I played amazing," Ivanovic said, "in the second I also started well and had some chances to go 4-0 and I didn't used them and I tried to force it a little bit more and she started putting more pressure on me. I started well in the third [set] as well but she never gave up and it could have gone either way. It was a tough match, emontionally and everything. I'm really happy to come through it and that's the best present I could ask for."
Like Ivanovic, Henin made a bright start to her round robin clash on Day 1 in the Spain, capitalizing on an error-strewn display from Chakvetadze to ease through the opening set in just 25 minutes. The 20-year-old Russian looked tentative from the outset and struggled to find any rhythm on her groundstrokes. However, the second set was an altogether different matter and the resurgent No.7 seed battled back to take an early 2-0 lead.
Henin, the reigning champion, reasserted her authority when she reeled off the next three games, but Chakvetadze was not set to give up without a fight and continued her confident hitting to force the set into a tie-break. There was little to separate the two players at the start of the tie-break, but at 3-3 the 25-year-old No.1 seed moved through the gears to wrap up a hard-fought 61 76(4) victory.
"It's good to win the first match especially in a round robin," Henin said. "It is very important and gives me a lot of confidence going into the rest of the week. I feel very comfortable here and being at such a great event is really motivating and I'm very happy at present."
Even closer still was the evening's second match, which saw No.6 seed Sharapova notch up her first win since the US Open against No.8 Hantuchova. There was nothing to choose between the two protagonists for the first set until, out of the blue, Sharapova manufactured the first break point of the match in the ninth game before converting to take a close opener.
There were signs in the second set of Sharapova returning to her devastating best as she started to dominate the rallies and broke serve to move into a 5-3 lead. However, Hantuchova was far from finished and saved four match points before a double fault from the Russian handed her back the service break. More drama was to follow though as the Slovak immediately lost her serve once more, before slumping to a 64 75 defeat when a forehand drifted long on Sharapova' fifth match point.
"I think I did a good job just being positive," Sharapova said, "I stayed tough and didn't let it [wasted match points] bother me because things like that happen easily and things can start going another way very fast. It's a great way to start to week and I'll hopefully only improve from here."