Miami: Ivanovic d. Kuznetsova

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MIAMI, Fla.—The contrast between Ana Ivanovic and Svetlana Kuzentsova tonight was striking. Ivanovic, a former No. 1, projects a remarkable air of discipline and economy. Kuznetsova, the free-spirited two-time Grand Slam champion, seems to be all over the place—capable of astonishing you one moment and making you cringe the next.

Today, the worker bee carried the day, as Ivanovic wrapped up an entertaining if not particularly dramatic win at the Sony Open, 6-3, 6-3.

This was a match of big cuts and high-speed but rarely lengthy rallies. Kuznetsova got off to a painfully slow start, spotting Ivanovic a service game right off the bat. The unseeded Russian, trying to mount yet another comeback (she’s been ranked as high as No. 2), was never able to overcome that deficit, and fought what might be called a rear guard action the entire way.

A lot of the credit for that goes to Ivanovic, though, for tonight there was a crisp quality about her serve and her strokes, particularly the forehand. In fact, she tagged 17 forehand winners (to five by Kuznetsova). Given how explosively Kuznetsova played at times—and how unpredictable she can be—Ivanovic showed a tremendous amount of poise in containing her opponent and remaining patient. She took advantage of the openings she received, converting five of 11 break points.

Ivanovic’s first potential glitch occurred when she led 4-2. From 30-all, she hit a forehand winner, but Kuznetsova replied with an unreturnable service return to bring it back to deuce. Ivanovic went right back at her and hit a service winner. She followed with a cross-court backhand winner to hold for 5-2. After a Kuznetsova hold, Ivanovic fell behind on her serve 15-30. But Kuznetsova made a backhand error—the shot let her down, time and again, throughout the night. Ivanovic then hit a service winner and closed out the set in 27 minutes with a 103 M.P.H. ace.

Kuznetsova dug herself a big hole right off the bat again to start the second set. From 30-all, she watched a big forehand service winner sail right by her, and Ivanovic converted the break point with an inside-out forehand blast. Kuznetsova rallied, though, to break right back, after which she held a long game with some nervy play, brushing aside two break points to take a 2-1 lead.

Still rolling, Kuznetsova won the first point on Ivanovic’s serve with a forehand volley. It was one of those moments when you could feel the match precariously balanced and ready to topple into Kuznetsova’s lap. But on the next point, she made a backhand error and shrieked audibly. From where I was sitting, I had no idea what she said, but the chair umpire seemed to—and gave Kuznetsova a warning for “audible obscenity.”

Kuznetsova went to the chair to plead her case, and got into a back and forth with the umpire. The crowd whistled and booed, while Ivanovic danced around at the baseline. The appeal went nowhere except Kuznetsova’s head—she didn’t win another point until she was serving at 2-all, 0-30. After a smash that won her the next point, she made a silly drop shot error and followed on with a backhand down-the-line error to be broken.

Ivanovic struggled through a tough, high-quality game to consolidate the break, and took advantage of another puzzling lapse by Kuznetsova to break again, winning four straight points. Kuznetsova managed to break back for 3-5, but despite fending off three match points, she bowed on Ivanovic’s fourth with a final forehand error in response to yet another crisp service return.

It’s hard to read too much into a match like this, but Ivanovic’s ability to sustain a high level and not come undone by Kuznetsova’s jazz-like, free-form game was impressive.

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