The second-set lead had slipped from her grip as if slathered in suntan lotion and as Ana Ivanovic focused on the impending tie breaker she turned her back to the net and bounced on her toes. Ivanovic stared at the back wall and then watched Daniela Hantuchova hit the wall.
In a clash of Top 20 players clad in identical adidas orange dresses and matching visors, Ivanovic played with power and poise and benefited from Hantuchova's complete collapse in the breaker to advance to the Sony Ericsson Open fourth round with a 6-3, 7-6 (2) triumph.
Continuing her quest to return to the Top 10, the 16th-ranked Serbian scored her sixth win in her last seven matches. Ivanovic showed no signs of compromised movement from the left glute strain that forced her to retire from last weekend's Indian Wells' semifinal against Maria Sharapova.
Though Ivanovic entered this encounter with a 4-2 career edge against Hantuchova, three of their six matches had gone the distance with the 19th-ranked Slovak winning their most recent meeting in the Birmingham semifinals last June. Hantuchova has a well-earned reputation as one of the purest ball strikers on the WTA Tour, but struggled to find the sweet spot today, committing 45 errors compared to 24 for Ivanovic. When Hantuchova dumped a double fault into net, Ivanovic had her second straight break and a 3-2 lead. Ivanovic has worked with her coach, Nigel Sears, who formerly coached Hantuchova, to add more spin to her forehand. She lashed a forehand winner down the line on her second set point, winning four consecutive games to close it out. On the ensuing changeover, Hantuchova was counseled by her coach, Claudio Pistolesi, who encouraged her to play to the Ivanovic forehand in an effort to force the Serb to defend the entire court.
"You're going too much to her backhand and she knows you're going there too much," Pistolesi said. Typically, Hantuchova is solid off both wings, but the Ivanovic forehand was the biggest weapon on the court and she wielded it well with most of her 24 winners coming from her forehand. Hantuchova committed 20 forehand errors, but hit successive stinging forehands to break back in the second set. She saved three break points to earn a hard-fought hold for 5-4.
All the good work Hantuchova did to draw even dissipated in the breaker as she completely lost the plot, leaking six unforced errors. Hantuchova clanked a backhand wide to hand Ivanovic the mini-break on the first point then things got ugly as she she committed three straight forehand errors to fall behind 0-4. Hantuchova's sixth error gave Ivanovic match point. Stepping forward, Ivanovic fired a forehand winner down the line to set up a fourth-round showdown of former world No. 1's against Venus Williams, who fought off a match point to post a thrilling 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (5) win over Aleksandra Woznik. Venus has won seven of eight meetings vs. Ivanovic, collecting 13 of the 16 sets they've played.
"I'm very, very happy," Ivanovic said afterward. "It was a tough third-round match for both of us. I played well in the first set and managed to stay calm in the second, which was very important."