Ivanovic squeaks into Open final with late comeback
Ivanovic, backing up a day after a bruising scrap against Venus Williams, allowed ninth seed Hantuchova to run away with the match before roaring back to win 0-6, 6-3, 6-4.sports Updated: Jan 24, 2008 16:58 IST
Serbian fourth seed Ana Ivanovic staged a barnstorming comeback from eight games down Thursday to beat Slovak Daniela Hantuchova and set up an Australian Open final against Maria Sharapova.
Ivanovic, backing up a day after a bruising scrap against Venus Williams, allowed ninth seed Hantuchova to run away with the match before roaring back to win 0-6, 6-3, 6-4.
The 20-year-old looked like wilting in humid conditions under the closed roof of the Rod Laver Arena, taking 46 minutes to win her first game and reviving memories of her choke in last year's French Open final.
Urged on by the Melbourne Park crowd, the Serb clawed her way back into the match, admitting she was surprised at the intensity of an opponent in Hantuchova contesting her first Grand Slam semi-final.
"She was playing really good and I was always on the back foot and always defending," Ivanovic said.
"I didn't find my rhythm and I knew I had to go for the shots before her, because she likes to dominate. I tried to hang in there.
"But I just tried to tell myself that she can't keep up that level throughout the whole match. I knew I would get a chance at some point, and that helped me a lot."
Ivanovic will struggle to recover from such a slow start in the final against an in-form Sharapova, but can count on the support of the Melbourne Park crowd, which includes locally-based relatives and expatriate Serbs.
"If it wasn't for you guys I would be already booking my flight back home," the relieved world number three said after the win.
The Serbian beauty, who can live up to her billing as the next big thing in women's tennis with a tournament win, said she was disappointed with her slow start but encouraged by the way she fought back.
She also dismissed complaints from Hantuchova that the squeaking from her shoes as she prepared to return serve was an annoying distraction that contributed to the win.
"If you see other matches I was doing exactly the same thing, it's just the way these courts play," she said.
"I just tried to move my feet, to return the ball, so it really was not intentional."
Ivanovic, 20, began nervously as her serve misfired, double-faulting to go down a break in the opening game and failing to score a point in the second.
The 24-year-old Slovak, who enjoyed an armchair ride to the semis while Ivanovic battled through a bruising clash with Venus Williams, looked fresher than her opponent.
Hantuchova stunned Ivanovic to take the first set 6-0 after just 25 minutes.
Ivanovic stretched the opening game of the second for eight minutes but eventually conceded another break.
She finally held serve in the third game and went on to score a crucial break back, for the first time unleashing some of the aggression that helped her down Williams.
The Serb's recent fitness work, which included playing in sauna-like conditions at a British training centre to prepare for Melbourne's heat, began to pay off as her movement improved late in the second set.
She claimed another break in the eighth game, then went on the defend serve with an ace and take the match to a third set.
It turned into a 59 minute minute arm-wrestle, Ivanovic seizing the decisive break in the ninth game then serving out the match, slumping to the floor after Hantuchova netted a return to give her victory.