Late rain on Tuesday night meant that Ana Ivanovic’s first round match against Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez was scheduled first up on Court 14 on Wednesday morning.
Not surprisingly there was a full house to see the former world No.1 in action. Ivanovic’s fall from the top of the women’s game has received widespread attention over recent years but she is back on the rise and currently ranked No.14.
The Serb rose to fame as a 19-year-old after finishing runner-up at Roland Garros in 2007 and semi-finalist at Wimbledon in the same year. A year later she won her only Grand Slam title, at Roland Garros, but has since failed to progress beyond the fourth round at any of the slams having been hampered by injuries and a lack of confidence.
This was only the second meeting between the pair, Martinez Sanchez having won the previous encounter on clay in 2010 in straight sets.
Ivanovic started brightly against the tricky left-hander, going up a break early to lead 2-0, only to be broken straight back. The first set was littered with unforced errors and a succession of breaks of serve.
The crucial moment arrived in the first set after Ivanovic showed her gritty determination to hold serve after facing break points down to go up 4-3. The following game was a demonstration of Ivanovic’s talent as she broke the Martinez Sanchez service to love. Her offensive ground strokes brought about three consecutive winners which served as a reminder as to why she reached the top of the women’s game.
Having won the previous three games to wrap up the first set 6-3, the Serb then displayed her mental fragility with a catalogue of unforced errors to trail 3-0 in the second set.
The No.14 seed returned from a toilet break to stop the rot as she clawed her way back to 3-2 - which was greeted by the customary fist pump and a roar from the crowd.
Nevertheless, her comeback was short-lived as a succession of breaks of serve, similar to the first set, allowed Martinez Sanchez to accelerate into a 5-2 lead. Credit must be given to the Spaniard as she troubled her opponent with her variety and intelligent net play to claim the second set 6-3.
The gutsy left-hander was unable to conjure the same guile and trickery that proved so effective in the second set, and was eventually ousted by Ivanovic’s baseline dominance. Ivanovic completed the 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 victory in exactly two hours to set up a second-round clash with Ukrainian Kateryna Bondarenko on Thursday. Her meeting with Bondarenko will be a trip down memory lane for both players, who last clashed at Wimbledon in the 2004 junior final.
In spite of an erratic performance with 27 unforced errors against a player 37 ranking places below, Ivanovic declared that she was very happy with the win.
"Very happy with the victory. It's never very easy playing first round, but also playing against such an opponent who mixes up lot. It's a lefty and very well suited to the grass court game. I'm really happy and proud that I got through that third set, because it wasn't easy till the end.’’
There is a wait of anticipation for Ivanovic to reproduce the form which saw her crowned Roland Garros champion in 2008. With the women’s game so open at the moment, many believe Ivanovic has the potential to succeed at this year’s Championships.
However, she played down her chances. "It's really hard to predict. I had really a little bit of injury before. I didn't have ideal preparation. I'm happy to be able to compete and feel healthy.’’
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