Ana Ivanovic claimed her first WTA Tour title in more than two years with a 6-2, 5-7, 6-4 victory over fellow former world No.1 Venus Williams to clinch the Auckland Classic yesterday and boost her confidence ahead of the Australian Open.
The 26-year-old Serbian had not won a title since she completed a 6-3, 6-0 victory over Spain’s Anabel Medina Garrigues in Bali at the end of 2011.
Against the seven-times grand slam champion, Ivanovic at times looked every bit the former top player in the world as she worked the tall American around and hit winners down the tramlines.
The former French Open champion, who had not beaten the 33-year old American since they met at the 2008 Australian Open, had romped through the clash until she was serving for the match at 5-4 in the second set when Williams seemingly came alive.
“Very tough. Venus showed again what a great sport she is and what she has done in the past,” Ivanovic said. “At the end of the second set I made a couple of errors that I hadn’t made up until that point,” the Serb added of her yips in failing to close out the match in straight sets. “But I just decided I would try to enjoy it and play and move forward and be aggressive.”
Ivanovic, who had two match points earlier in the second set, broke in the first game of the third set and never relinquished that advantage.
She virtually assured herself of the title in the eighth game when she served successive aces and then fought back from two break points and sealed the win in the tenth when Williams blasted a forehand long.
“Congrats to Ana, she played so well,” said Williams.
Venus’s sister Serena set out her credentials ahead of the first grand slam of the year by powering to a 6-4, 7-5 victory over Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka in the final of the Brisbane International.
The American won the battle between the world’s top two players to pick up her 58th career title.
The final lacked the intensity of Williams’ semi-final victory over Maria Sharapova on Friday but lived up to its promise in a pulsating second set.
The world No.1’s serve was far more consistent than in her previous match and she did not face a break point in taking the first set. She was gifted the only break in the seventh game when Azarenka blasted a forehand wide down the line. The American then sealed the set with an ace and an early end to the match seemed likely when she broke the Belarusian in the first game of the second set but, instead, it brought her opponent to life.
Azarenka broke Williams twice to take a 4-2 lead but lost her own serve to restore parity. In the crucial 11th game, Williams hit a vicious backhand down the line to secure her third break of the set and then served out for victory.
In the men’s draw in Brisbane, Roger Federer will be chasing a 19th win over home favourite Lleyton Hewitt when the two 32-year-olds renew their friendly rivalry in today’s final.
Both players needed three sets to reach the final with top seed Federer beating Frenchman Jeremy Chardy 6-3, 6-7 (3-7), 6-3 and Hewitt downing Japan’s Kei Nishikori 5-7, 6-4, 6-3 in stifling conditions.
Rafa Nadal began his year in perfect fashion with victory over Gael Monfils in the Qatar Open in Doha yesterday.
The Spanish world No.1 put down an ominous marker for the forthcoming Australian Open as he claimed his 61st career title with a 6-1, 6-7 (5-7), 6-2 win over the flamboyant Frenchman in the desert city.
Victory took Nadal past Andre Agassi into eighth spot on the all-time list of ATP Tour title winners and helped extend his lead at the top of the rankings over Novak Djokovic, who opted not to play this week.
Monfils’ two wins over Nadal had both come in Doha, in 2009 and 2012 but, apart from the second set, he was out-muscled by the Spaniard who moved smoothly on the hard court and was far too rugged.