Ivanovic buries grass-court demonsComment on this story
Birmingham, United Kingdom – Ana Ivanovic conquered her grasscourt gremlins at last when she won her first-ever tournament on the surface, a 6-3, 6-2 victory over Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova earning her the title at the Birmginham Open
It has taken the 26-year-old former world number one from Serbia almost a decade to achieve, and the emphasis and consistency of her triumph made it appear more surprising it has taken so long.
The top-seeded Ivanovic did not drop a set throughout the tournament, the final took only 73 minutes, and the weight and earliness of her hitting - so perfectly suited to the slick, fast top - proved too forceful for all her opponents
Strycova, an unseeded Czech playing in her first final in a Premier level event, had her moments, but was eventually overwhelmed.
She broke serve at the very start, almost broke back in the fourth and sixth games of the second set and saved two match points in the eighth, but often foundered because she attempted a little too much against such a domineering favourite.
Ivanovic's victory was as much over herself, and her inner doubts, as a valiant but outplayed opponent.
“You're waiting for such a result and now it comes and I'm very happy, but I didn't expect it,” she said.
Asked for how she managed to win at last on grass, she said:
“The biggest challenge for me at the moment is to be okay with not playing a perfect game, not playing a perfect shot.
“Even when opponents play well, it's very important for me not to dwell on it, but just accept it, move on, and try to do my best each point.”
For the second day in succession Ivanovic started indifferently, dropping serve immediately, and for the second day in succession she emerged without drifting into longer-term trouble.
That was partly because Strycova's admirable policy of boldness in confronting one of the most intimidating attackers in the game was carried a little too far.
It led to her too dropping her first service game, after a near-brilliant drop-and-lob volley combination landed a fraction out, which was followed by a dynamic serve-volley which also missed by a narrow margin.
Ivanovic served better second time around, and a game later made the first decisive breakthrough. It was two penetrating backhand drives, not her biggest weapon, her forehand, which did the damage.
Ivanovic showed few signs of uncertainty on a surface she has previously claimed not to like, holding serve twice more to close out the first set
She broke again in the third game of the second and accelerated towards victory. There were just two moments, when Strycova had break-back points in the fourth and sixth games, when she might have got back into it but she again failed by being a little over-bold.
She did, however, save two match points at 1-5, before Ivanovic served out to love to take the grasscourt title which has taken a decade in coming.
Ivanovic will rise two places to world number 11, well-positioned to climb during Wimbledon back into the top 10 for the first time in five years.
The grasscourt Grand Slam starts in eight days time. Ivanovic will go there knowing she has won a trophy, the Maud Watson Cup, which is the same one given to the first winner of the Wimbledon women's singles title, back in 1884.
Can she win that too? “It is good to feel it's never over and you always have a chance,” she said.
Later, Ivanovic was asked if she felt like a Grand Slam champion. “I think I do,” the former French Open winner said. “I have it in me, I know. It's still very hard work. I know that. So I have to just prove to myself that I belong back there. Winning titles like this definitely helps.” – Sapa-AFP