On a rain-affected, yes, rain-affected day in Dubai, Ana Ivanovic scored her first top 10 win since last year’s French Open by ousting the number one seed and defending champion, Simona Halep, 7-6(2) 6-2. Ivanovic saved a set point in a super intense opening set that was eventually decided on the tiebreak. There were some great rallies and Halep had the early upper hand, breaking Ivanovic’s serve in the first game. Ivanovic was playing well but Halep was getting that extra ball back every time. The world number three held on in a titanic five-deuce game at 3-2, saving two break points. Ivanovic didn’t go away though and held her next two service games to love and to 15 to force Halep to serve out the first set… Halep had a set point at *40-30 but errors into the net were her undoing.
The crucial game for Ivanovic came at 5-5; her first serve, which had been in full flow in the games before, suddenly became dormant. Ivanovic though managed to scrap her way through the game, saving two break points including the second with a wonderfully placed forehand down-the-line. Halep didn’t back off serving with scoreboard pressure, forcing the tiebreak which on reflection was just about right after a fascinating first 12 games. The first three points in the tiebreak went against the serve and the turning point was an extended rally where Ivanovic produced some remarkable retrieving on the defence. Halep played a sloppy tiebreak from then on…
Peak Ivanovic opened up the second set with a string of forehand winners and while she was broken straight back in the next game, Ivanovic looked to be the player in control and was winning the big points in the numerous dicey deuce games. Halep’s game began to break down from the end of that first set and she made some wild errors in the second set, particularly off the forehand side. Ivanovic’s level wasn’t as high in the second set but it didn’t need to be. More forehand errors followed and Ivanovic sealed the double break on a powerful return, before serving out the match to 30.
Halep’s decision to skip the nose surgery has been widely debated and after a performance like this, it isn’t a glowing example of smart decision making! It seemed to be an ideal time for her to take a break, particularly with other ailments. Her mental game has not looked secure in 2016 and it’s been an overall poor start to the year.
For Ivanovic, this was a really encouraging performance. She played extremely well to stay with Halep in that first set and claimed her reward when the Romanian player was unable to serve out the first set. It always amazes me that Ivanovic can get by with that ball toss but she does just fine, accepting that it’s never going to be perfect and adjusting without letting it control her mind and game. I’ve said it a lot these past few weeks but i’m impressed how Ivanovic has essentially turned around her season after such a miserable start.
Ivanovic plays Barbora Strycova in the quarter-finals; the Czech player came back from a set and a break down, winning 12 of the last 13 games to defeat Julia Goerges, 2-6 6-3 6-1. Goerges played so, SO well in the first round against Kuznetsova and for a set and a half, looked well on course to be backing it up and launch herself forward as a title contender. That’s until it all came crashing down. Ivanovic leads Strycova, 3-0 in their head-to-head and has yet to drop a set; in fact all six sets that Ivanovic has won have finished either 6-2 or 6-3. You just never know with Ivanovic and we’ve seen the letdown before but i’d give her the benefit of the doubt.