Much has changed since Ana Ivanovic made a stunning run to the semi-finals at Wimbledon as a 19-year-old back in 2007.
It’s a far sleeker, svelter Ana who today beat Virginie Razzano 7-6(1) 6-0 on Court No.2 than the one who bested fellow teen queen Nicole Vaidisova in a big-hitting women’s quarter-final six years ago.
And there’s now a far stronger British connection with Nigel Sears at the helm in the coaches’ box.
She certainly seemed at home on the English lawns from the outset against Razzano, racing to a 3-0 lead in just seven minutes.
But the anxiety and tension that have characterised the years since that 2007 Wimbledon run – she’s never passed the fourth round in five subsequent trips to London, and remains outside the top 10 after peaking at No.1 in June 2008 – began to rear its head.
Maybe it was the knowledge that Razzano is a dangerous floater in any Grand Slam draw, especially following her incredible upset of Serena Williams in the first round of last year’s French Open.
Or the fact that the Frenchwoman began to find her game, particularly her flat, penetrating forehand that begat several winners and helped her to draw level at 3-3.
Whatever the reason, Ivanovic visibly sagged in confidence. The cleanness of her ball-striking went awry, and rarely did a backhand land beyond the service line. Her infamously wayward ball toss appeared, while routine returns failed to find the court. Desperate looks toward her entourage were also becoming more frequent.
That’s not to take anything away from Razzano, who displayed a game perfectly suited to the grass of the All England Club. Her point construction was excellent as she frequently directed her flat drives in behind the Serb, and used her underrated athleticism to remain alive in several points.
With Ivanovic unable to capitalise on a set point when returning in the 10th game, the set continued on serve, and it was now the Frenchwoman holding with ease. Ivanovic labored, surviving a struggle to nudge ahead 6-5. When Razzano breezed through her next service game to level at 6-6, the No.12 seed looked to be in trouble.
Yet the match literally turned on its head with the opening point of the tie-break.
Slipping mid-point on the baseline, Ivanovic recovered and eventually concluded the forceful duel at net, celebrating with customary fist-pumps as the crowd applauded warmly.
And it seemed to free her up – she landed two big serves to lead 4-1, smacked successive forehand and backhand winners to move ahead 6-1, and took the opening set on the very next point after Razzano erred on the return.
The Frenchwoman wouldn’t win another game.
Her play became mired with errors, while Ivanovic, by contrast, hit out positively and successfully – she produced a pair of fabulous running forehand winners in the final game to reach match point.
She iced victory in style with an ace, setting up a second round match with either reigning Wimbledon junior girls’ champ Eugenie Bouchard or Kazakh Galina Voskoboeva.
Ivanovic finds herself in a relatively open section of the draw headed by eighth seed Petra Kvitova, who on form is certainly no lock to reach her projected quarter-final berth. And if Ivanovic’s level of play in the second set today is anything to go by, a similar run to the one she enjoyed in 2007 is hardly out of the question.
20:24...But boy, it was a barrow-load of fun. I hope you enjoyed it even half as much as we did. Thank you for all your messages throughout, you've been the glue holding us together as the edges frayed amid the madness. Now if you'll excuse me, it's time for us Brits to raise a toast to Andy Murray and Fred Perry. British sporting legends both.
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