When you’ve struggled as long and hard as former No. 1 Ana Ivanovic, working with diligence, patience, and—above all—faith, good things are bound to happen. That was the case today in Madrid, as Ivanovic looked trim, swift, confident, and near perfect in an artful, 56-minute deconstruction of the lefty game of world No. 6 Angelique Kerber, 6-3, 6-1.
If there’s a caveat to issue, it’s that Kerber went into a swoon early in this match and, looking pale, drawn, and at times downright disinterested, she put up little resistance to the flurry of Ivanovic first serves and pinpoint forehands that did the most damage for the No. 14 seed. (Often used in the classic one-two combination of wide serve in the deuce court, followed by the inside-out forehand to the opposite side.)
Both women were coming off exhausting three-setters in the third round. Kerber won hers, over Svetlana Kuznetsova, 3-6, 6-4, 7-5; Ivanovic went her one better by squeaking past Laura Robson in a decisive tiebreaker. Theoretically, the women ought to have been comparably fatigued, but Ivanovic looked fresh as a daisy throughout this match. Her footwork was especially impressive, while Kerber appeared sluggish and slow, and often more inclined to spectate rather than participate. A few times she gingerly touched the right side of her abdomen, as if she were suffering from cramps.
The more ominous cramps, though, were in Kerber's left arm when she was serving. She hit six double faults—not a huge number, but most of them were after Ivanovic had built a 5-2 lead and Kerber needed to up her game to stay in contention. And throughout most of the first and all of the second set, Kerber clearly was engaged in a game of chase-the-toss. Ironically, comparable service woes have been one of the major obstacles Ivanovic has had to overcome in her effort to remain a contender at major tournaments. She experienced no such difficulties today.
Ivanovic soon closed out the first set after a Kerber hold. The German wouldn’t win another game until her back was up against an 0-5 wall. She managed to break Ivanovic to avoid a total whitewash, but it was an unconvincing revival. Playing much like someone suffering from cramps, she just smacked at balls, moving as little as possible, and was lucky that they went in.
Ivanovic, though, was in no mood to add even a slightly bitter aftertaste to the win. Kerber double-faulted to start the next game, and Ivanovic's forehand down-the-line winner and a delightful cross-court drop shot in response to a dropper brought her to match point at 15-40. She wrapped it up with a forehand cross-court service return that Kerber didn’t even start for.
It’s been a year of wide swings for both women. Ivanovic continues to struggle with her confidence, and sometimes the toss with which she begins her otherwise surprisingly powerful serve. Kerber has absorbed some puzzling losses, but she made the semis at Indian Wells and a final recently in Monterrey. How both of them will fare in the coming weeks is an intriguing question; what we do know is that Ivanovic has to be feeling a lot better about her game than does Kerber after this one.
Stat of the Match: Kerber won just 16 percent of her second serve points (three of 19), which gives you a good indication of two things: How little confidence she had in her serve—half the time, she seemed surprised when it went in—and how aggressively and successfully Ivanovic attacked that vulnerable second delivery.