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Briefs from Birmingham 2014: Ivanovic sets up final meeting

Ana Ivanovic stoops for a backhand strike.
by Michael Beattie
Saturday 14 June 2014

Two very different players advanced to the final of the 2014 Aegon Classic. Wimbledon.com reports...

Ivanovic finds her feet on grass  - Ana Ivanovic d. Zhang Shuai 6-2 6-2

Ana Ivanovic has never reached the final of a grass court tournament before – a fact that will surprise those who have watched her at Edgbaston this week. The top seed has been in irresistible form, playing with a verve and aggression that suits these courts perfectly. Saturday’s semi-final was played in cooler conditions than she has been accustomed to this week, but it did not take her long to warm to the task against Zhang Shuai.

Zhang stunned third seed Sloane Stephens wither intensity in the opening stages and similarly got the jump on Ivanovic, capitalising on some loose serving to break the world No.13 in the first game – just the third time she had dropped serve all week.

From that point, Ivanovic went on a run of nine games turned a slow start into a foregone conclusion. The forward-thinking gameplan that had taken time away from Barthel, Davis and Koukalova this week was reined in against Zhang, Ivanovic opting to venture to the net sparingly and vary the pace against the ninth seed.

The plan worked perfectly, unsettling Zhang after the fillip of her early break. She spent most of the match second-guessing the Serbian – one minute trading blows from the baseline, the next seeing the ball tucked away with a crisp angled volley. With Ivanovic dominating on return, Zhang’s response was to ramp up the power and go for the lines when the chance arrived. The unforced errors soon stacked up.

“I had really good few sneak-ins to the net and I played volleys nicely,” said a delighted Ivanovic. “That's something that my coach has been encouraging me to do more often. I was very pleased to mix in that.”

Zhang did what she could to stem the tide. Ivanovic’s first set point proved to be the high point of the contest as the Chinese 25-year-old came forward after an angled backhand only to be forced back by a clever defensive lob from Ivanovic. The Serbian also returned the resulting smash with interest but Zhang produced a smart half-volley as Ivanovic snuck in, drawing the error off a short backhand to survive.

Four set points came and went before Zhang, having served to the backhand in the ad-court, went down the middle. Ivanovic pounced to set up a forehand that wrong-footed her opponent and wrapped up an entertaining set.

By the time Zhang got on the scoreboard in the second set, the damage had been done. Ivanovic eased off but never let her serve be threatened, breaking Zhang for a fifth time to seal victory and set down a marker for Wimbledon.

“My main focus is tomorrow's match now, and then Wimbledon, it's a new event,” Ivanovic said. “I really want to just keep my mindset and just, you know, be happy and enjoy each match and each challenge.

“To win a Grand Slam you have to go through a lot of tough matches, a lot of difficult moments throughout each match. So it's a long, long way, and it's hard – that's why it's so special once you do it.”

Five alive for Zahlavova Strycova - Barbora Zahlavova Strycova d. Casey Dellacqua 7-6 6-1

Few players warm up for a grass court season on clay, but Barbora Zahlavova Strycova has overcome the transition to reach the biggest final of her career to date with a hard-fought victory over Casey Dellacqua.

Zalhavova Strycova played a Bundesliga match in Germany before flying to Birmingham on Sunday night, and certainly looked like a player adapting to survive in three-set wins over Naomi Broady, Lucie Safarova and Timea Babos. Fully adjusted, she described her quarter-final performance against Kirsten Flipkens as the perfect performance; while her semi-final showdown against the 16th seed was certainly more of a battle, it was no less impressive a result.

“I was playing again a good match today,” She said. “I was focusing on the tactics I talked about with my coach, and I followed. Maybe yesterday was a better match, but I'm happy because it was the semi-final and sometimes the nerves are working. So I'm happy I mentally pulled it through.”

After two rain delays, the match came to life late in the first set. Having given up a 4-2 lead, Zahlavova Strycova heaped the pressure on Dellacqua’s serve at 5-5, forcing deuce with a delightful drop volley before connecting with two deep returns to serve for the set. But Dellacqua was not done, recovering from a missed smash to save set point and send a tight set into a tie-break.

The momentum was firmly with Dellacqua, who produced her best tennis of the match in the first six points to lead 5-1 but Zahlavova Strycova turned the game on its head as they changed ends, reeling off six straight points to clinch the set.

“I'm a very emotional player and person – my character is very emotional. Being frustrated on court is never good. I mean, sometimes it can help you to put it out, but you have to know where is the limit to finish it.

“That moment when I was losing 5-1, I felt like I needed to put it out to my coach because he's the closest person there, so I was talking to him what I did wrong. It helped me, but then I went back and played the game again.”

From there, Dellacqua’s hopes of reaching a first WTA tour final swiftly faded. Zahlavova Strycova broke immediately, peppering the baseline to prevent the Australian from moving her opponent around and drawing a stream of errors to hand the Czech a 7-6 6-1 victory.

It has been quite a journey for Zahlavova Strycova, who was suspended for six months after testing positive for a banned stimulant, returning to the tour in April 2013.

“First two months was tough,” admitted Zahlavova Strycova, who considered retirement after the ITF’s decision. “I didn't want to play anymore because I felt like it's really unfair what happened and I didn't have motivation to come back.

But thinking about it, I was also doing different things. I was living a normal life, and I felt like I missed it. I started to practice, and I missed adrenaline, I missed the feeling of playing matches. Then I decided to come back.

“It was a good decision, and I see the tennis right now a little bit different than before.”


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