Racquet Reaction

Rome: Ivanovic d. Sharapova

Thursday, May 15, 2014 /by
AP
AP

Maria Sharapova was the star of recurring nightmares for Ana Ivanovic, riding a seven-match winning streak against the statuesque Serbian.

The run of dominance spanned seven years, with Sharapova snatching 13 of the last 15 sets the pair had played. Sharapova dispensed the most painful loss of the streak nearly three weeks ago, rallying to win 11 of the final 12 games and capture her third consecutive Stuttgart title.

Showing no scars from that setback, Ivanovic spent today's rematch spooking Sharapova's second serve, smacking her forehand into the corners, and sprinting around the court as if energized by a competitive wake-up call.

Ivanovic broke serve five times in a confident 6-1, 6-4 victory that snapped Sharapova's 12-match winning streak and dented the Russian's aura of invincibility on dirt against anyone not named Serena Williams. The two-time Rome champion had won 46 of her last 49 clay-court matches, with her only losses coming against Serena.

Ivanovic was assertive from the coin toss: She won it, chose to serve, and slammed down a love hold.

She benefited from some good fortune as well. The No. 11 seed was off the doubles alley when she slashed at a desperate forehand down the line that looked well wide—then the ball struck the tape near the singles stick, spun sideways, and plopped over on Sharapova's side. That freaky and fortuitous bounce gave Ivanovic the break and a 2-0 lead.

Ivanovic didn't exactly disguise her intent to terrorize every second serve she saw. She was bouncing so close to the box ready to pounce that she could have tapped the service line with her Yonex racquet before back-pedaling when the toss went up. That predatory stance paid off: Ivanovic won 13 of 18 points on the Sharapova second serve and coaxed six double faults. 

On her second set point, Ivanovic danced around her backhand and drilled a forehand down the line, capping the 31-minute opener on a four-game run.

Trying to shake Ivanovic, Sharapova slid an ace down the middle to hold for the first time and take a 2-1 second-set lead. The game seemed to stabilize her serve a bit as the pair traded successive love holds. Ivanovic, who served 70 percent, staved off two break points with a pair of aggressive serves in the next game. She also caught a break when Sharapova netted an open-court swing volley, eventually holding for 3-all.

A couple of key components were Ivanovic's willingness to play sharp combinations at crunch time and her timely variety. The 2008 Roland Garros champion surprised Sharapova by hitting a hopping backhand drop shot winner, her first of the second set, for triple break point in the ninth game. She then cracked a cross-court backhand return, setting up a slashing forehand to break for 5-4.

Closure didn't come easily, and no one expected it to. A nervous double fault into net gave Sharapova a potentially match-altering break point. Staring down ghosts of self doubt, Ivanovic saved it before using the slider serve to set up a backhand winner for match point. She turned drama to dream theater, finishing with a forehand down the line and a joyous double fist pump to celebrate her first win over Sharapova since a 6-2, 6-1 sweep in the 2007 Roland Garros semifinals when she was 19 years old.

The 13th-ranked Serbian will face 14th-ranked Carla Suarez Navarro for a spot in the Rome semifinals. Ivanovic, who will contest her sixth quarterfinal of the season, beat the Spaniard in their lone prior match at Doha in 2012.

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