Commentary

Maturation, confidence evident in Ivanovic's title run

After desultory performances in her previous two Slam finals, Ana Ivanovic finally saw her dream of capturing a Grand Slam title come to fruition. And to boot, she now owns the world No. 1 ranking.

Updated: June 7, 2008, 4:56 PM ET
By Greg Garber | ESPN.com

Ana IvanovicPierre Verdy/AFP/Getty ImagesAfter failing to capitalize in her first two Grand Slam final appearances, Ana Ivanovic came through.
PARIS -- Growing up in Serbia, Ana Ivanovic dreamed of playing in a Grand Slam final, just like her idol, Monica Seles.

In 2007, here at Roland Garros, Ivanovic finally achieved that goal, but was embarrassed by Justine Henin 6-1, 6-2. It happened again Down Under back in January, when Maria Sharapova ruined Ivanovic's second major final with a 7-5, 6-3 defeat.

Ivanovic, through the tears, took these devastating losses to heart.

"When I went to play these finals I was thinking more about result -- what if I win this match, not what I have to do to win the match," Ivanovic said on Friday, the day before her third Grand Slam final. "So that's something I want to change. Tomorrow, when I go on the court, keep working hard for each point."

Part of her, she reiterated on Saturday, was already thinking of holding the trophy.

This time, Ivanovic never got too far ahead of herself. The 20-year-old Serbian stubbornly stayed in the massive moment. Point by point, game by game she built a grinding 6-4, 6-3 victory over Dinara Safina.

Seeing Safina -- playing in her first Grand Slam final -- across the net had a soothing effect, for Ivanovic saw herself.

"When I was in the court, I realized she was nervous," Ivanovic said. "It made me more calm because I had that experience."

Ivanovic, with her fresh, Catherine Zeta-Jonesish features, is now on top of the women's tennis world. Not only has she earned her first Grand Slam singles title, but on Monday she will become the No. 1 player when the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour singles rankings are updated.

"You want to make one more step and win a title," Ivanovic said. "Obviously, there were a lot of emotions inside, but until the last point I tried to [not] think about the occasion."

Ivanovic is not, it turns out, too nice to win a major championship.

And after the last shot trickled off Safina's racket, after Ivanovic had buried her face in her hands and hugged Safina at the net, Ivanovic looked truly tentative for the first time. She paused, trying to imagine a path to the people in her box. Eventually, she stepped up onto a rickety linesperson's chair, negotiated the railing and was engulfed by coaches, family and friends.

The first set was an appropriate opportunity for Ivanovic to collapse as she had against Henin and Sharapova. She was up a break and serving at 40-love when Safina exerted herself and broke back to level the match at 4-4. But Ivanovic never stopped firing those huge groundstrokes. She broke Safina back and then held at 5-4 in the best game of the match. Ivanovic blew a set point, then saved a game point, then thundered another forehand that Safina could not keep in the court.

Safina, who was also seeking her first Grand Slam title, has worked hard to improve her on-court demeanor. It worked gloriously in the past two tournaments, in which she won 12 straight matches and sent home six top-10 players. She even survived match points here against Sharapova and Elena Dementieva. But when Ivanovic broke her serve in the third game of the second set, the racket was sent bouncing into the dirt and the flow of the Russian's self-flagellation increased.

This is not to say there weren't flashes of nerves.

Serving at 3-2 in the second set, Ivanovic started tightening up. She double-faulted on game point and pushed a fragile backhand into the net. On the 13th and 14th points, Ivanovic escaped when Safina sent back-to-back forehands wide. In the end, Safina simply did not have another three-set comeback in her.

[+] EnlargeDinara Safina
JACQUES DEMARTHON/AFP/Getty ImagesAfter successfully avoiding her irascible ways for most of the tournament, Dinara Safina was not able to handle the big stage.
"I didn't have any more of that fire that I had in those matches," she said. "I was just, I think, tired. Even if I would want, but my heart couldn't and my body couldn't do it any more."

That the sterling championship trophies were awarded by Henin was appropriate. Henin, who won the past three titles here at Roland Garros, retired before she could win a record fourth and fifth overall. Did she see this coming? Perhaps. Henin wore a jacket that was precisely the same color as Ivanovic's boiled-lobster-red dress. Henin, giving more than 6 inches to each player, looked tiny standing between Safina and Ivanovic.

When the strains of Serbia's national anthem wafted over Court Philippe Chatrier, tears welled in Ivanovic's eyes. When it was over, there was a new world order. For the first time ever, a Serbian player -- not an American, Belgian, Russian or Swiss -- is No. 1 in the world. The new top five will feature two Serbs (Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic) and three Russians (Svetlana Kuznetsova, Sharapova and Dementieva).

In January, Novak Djokovic won a Grand Slam singles title for a war-torn country not know for its tennis. Now, Ivanovic is Serbia's first No. 1 player. These events are not random occurrences.

"Going into today's final, I thought of his victory earlier this year," she said. "And I thought, 'Why not? I can win a title as well.'

"It's something that motivates us, and I'm sure he will also reach his goal of being No. 1 one day. I feel so happy. It's my incentive to keep working hard, so I can win more."

Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Greg Garber

Writer, Reporter
Greg Garber joined ESPN in 1991 and provides reports for NFL Countdown and SportsCenter. He is also a regular contributor to Outside the Lines and a senior writer for ESPN.com.