Ana Ivanovic has knocked Maria Sharapova out of the WTA Premier tournament in Rome. The 2008 French Open champion beat the 2012 winner 6-1, 6-4 in the third round.
The win was perfect revenge for the defeat Ivanovic suffered at the hands of Sharapova a couple of weeks ago in the Stuttgart final. Just like in that match, Ivanovic got off to a dream start, breaking Sharapova in her first service game and then dominating the set to take it 6-1.
And, just as Sharapova did in that Stuttgart match, she fought back. Sharapova has quite a lot to fight for on red Clay. She is the player with the highest win-loss percentage of active players on the red stuff, and no one other than Serena Williams has beaten her on the surface since 2011.
Ivanovic, though, was determined to join Williams on that list. She looked like she would do it in a hurry, too, as she broke Sharapova to lead 1-0 in the second set. But just as in Stuttgart where Ivanovic took a set and a break lead only to be broken back, Ivanovic could not hold onto her lead and was pulled back to 1-1.
However, while Sharapova began to play well, Ivanovic played even better. The Stuttgart final was a lesson well learned as Ivanovic did not get nervous and her strokes did not break down. If anything, they were inspired by the prospect of a first win after seven consecutive defeats to the Russian. The Serb’s signature forehand was on fire and she belted winner after winner all the way to 5-4 where she saved a break point and then won the match with a huge forehand down the line, her 22nd winner of the match.
Beating Sharapova in straights on Clay was not new for the Serbian. Back in her glory days of 2006-08, Ivanovic beat Sharapova in straight sets at Roland Garros to make her first slam final.
Big wins have been far and few between for the former no.1 since she reached the pinnacle of the sport all those seasons ago. But things have been looking up this year. A win over Serena Williams in the last sixteen of the Australian Open and tournament wins in Auckland and Monterrey have made 2014 the year many believe Ana Ivanovic will finally re-establish herself at the top of the game again.
Rome could prove to be the venue for that moment. In the next round, Ivanovic faces 13th seed Suarez-Navarro. If she makes it past the Spaniard, then she could meet Serena Williams in the last four. Williams has been having injury issues though and may not even make it that far. If she does not, Ivanovic would face either one of McHale, Zhang or Lapchenko, none of whom should get in the way of an in-form Ivanovic making the final. There she could face Li Na, the no.2 seed. That would be a challenge but this season Ivanovic is proving she is more than up to it, and if her inspired form continues, the talk of her being back might actually become fact.
Commentary by Christian Deverille