- Ravi Ubha, Tennis
- 0 Shares
If you missed a single beat from the championship match, look no further. Ravi Ubha provided a blow-by-blow analysis.
Safina has to get off to a good start in the second, and does just that by holding at 15 to take the lead for the first time in a set. Ivanovic replies in kind, though not without some humor. A first serve at 15-all almost clubs her opponent -- just a bit outside.
Ivanovic's retrieving comes to the fore, again, at 40-30 for Safina, in the third game. Ping-ponged around the court, she throws up a defensive lob when seemingly out of the point. Safina fails to put the smash away, and later puts up a defensive lob of her own. Safina makes an error in judgement by opting to play a drop shot cross court, which is gobbled up and sent cross court for a winner. Could that be a vital moment?
Ivanovic is clearly taking the initiative on Safina's second serve, something the Russian isn't doing as effectively. From deuce, two second-serve returns give Safina no chance, and it's 2-1. The racket goes flying, tamely.
The match hits the hour mark, but how much longer? Ivanovic reels off four consecutive points to hold at love, pulling away to 3-1. Safina narrowly holds to edge closer, yet berates herself -- after winning a point to go up 40-30.
Time is running out for Safina, especially after losing a monumental sixth game that goes to four deuces and sees one break point.
Ivanovic is showing signs of a champion here. Getting to the first deuce by hitting a forehand into the net, she immediately responds by unleashing a good first serve and going for it with a forehand cross court, with success.
On the break point, Safina doesn't do enough with a return, and Ivanovic gives it the treatment by coming up with a backhand down the line. Two similar looking Safina forehands wrap up the game, going wide down the line.
A fascinating game unfolds next, and once more, Ivanovic's scrambling comes to fruition.
At game point, Ivanovic is doing sprints on the baseline trying to cope with Safina's power. She blocks a backhand that floats over the net, giving Safina what appears to be an easy putaway. Instead, a forehand goes into the net.
More drama unfolds. At the first of two break points, Ivanovic thinks she wins it by sending a backhand down the line. It's called out, much to her dismay, with chair umpire Emmanuel Joseph getting out of his seat to verify. A few boos emanate from Ivanovic's query.
Later, two double faults set up a second break chance. This time, a kick serve out wide, one of Safina's weapons during the tournament, opens up the court, allowing her to hit a forehand cross court Ivanovic can't cope with. Safina narrowly escapes.
Ivanovic holds at 15, and is a game away from becoming Serbia's first female singles Grand Slam champ. It's déjà vu for Safina, who needs another rally to force a third set. It doesn't look likely.
Sure enough, not this time. Ivanovic breaks at love to end Safina's 12-match winning streak and end her drought in Grand Slam finals. The end comes when Safina fails to dig out a looping cross-court forehand. Ivanovic squats to her knees in delight, though there was no writhing around the dirt.
Ivanovic wins the match, and the championship, 6-4, 6-3.
Moments later she perilously makes the climb into the stands to celebrate with her entourage, including mom Dragana and dad Miroslav. The tears flow. Nice. Henin will be remembered much more nicely this year by Ivanovic -- she presents the new Roland Garros Champion with the hallowed trophy.
Like her brother, Safina is brutally and refreshingly honest, and calls Ivanovic's support team a little annoying in her podium speech. Ivanovic's reply, like countryman Novak Djokovic's at the Australian Open final when the crowd was rooting for Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, is graceful. They were a "little bit loud, but they were as emotional as I was,'' she said.
The stats say not much was between the pair. They were neck-and-neck in first serve percentage, though Ivanovic won more points, and collected more winners than unforced errors. The key points, though, went to Ivanovic. That little bit extra of big-match experience appeared to be the difference.
You can bet folks at the WTA Tour are delighted. With Henin gone, a new, affable, attractive and gutsy star is born. And it's just the one they wanted.
You have to love those prematch interviews. The interviewer inevitably tries to coax a longish answer from one of the participants seconds before they step on court, to no avail. And how about this for pressure? Before asking Safina a second question, the interviewer, from the host broadcaster, quips, "Everybody is expecting a really great match and it's very important for women's tennis.''
Safina walks on court without offering a wave, unlike Ivanovic. Her conqueror last year, Justine Henin, is in the stands. No sign, though, of the Serb's coach, Sven Groeneveld. Under contract by Adidas, he can't play favorites when two Adidas-sponsored players battle each other. Safina's mom, a noted tennis coach back in Russia, is also there. No sign, either, of Safina's more famous brother, Marat Safin.
The first game of the match, which might set the tone -- ask Gael Monfils -- sees Safina get broken. Nerves, however, don't seem to be a factor. Safina is hitting out, rather than meekly sending balls into the net. She misses a forehand wide to give Ivanovic the lead.
Ivanovic cements the break by holding at 30, fighting back from 15-30. In a pretty much must-win game to save the set, Safina jumps out to a 40-0 lead, drops the next two points, and gets bailed out when Ivanovic makes an unforced error.
Safina squanders another chance in Ivanovic's next game, though the soon-to-be crowned No. 1 doesn't give her much chance, sending a backhand down the line, forcing an error from Safina and benefiting from another mistake from 15-30. The fist pumps are in full flow.
It's all one-way traffic now. Ivanovic breaks at love, picking on a second serve and crushing a backhand down the line, benefiting from a double fault and crushing another second serve to force an error. 4-1.
What did we say about movement not being a forte for either player?
Ivanovic showed she can motor in the next game. At 0-30, Safina cracks a backhand down the line, Ivanovic stretches to reach it with her forehand, and eventually wins the point. Then at 30-all, another lunge to the forehand side off a venomous Safina strike sees an unplanned but perfect drop shot climb over the net. Safina has talked at length about being more mature and not letting unlucky incidents such as that affect her, and so it goes. Aided by a blistering forehand at deuce, she registers a first break, and then holds easily to claw back to 4-3.
Another comeback on the cards? Maybe.
Cruising at 40-0 in the next game, Ivanovic drops the next five points, capped by a stunning backhand curled down the line. As seen throughout the fortnight, Ivanovic, when out of position, gets herself back into rallies by looping a ground stroke. It worked once in that game.
Hold the phone. Ivanovic regains the lead, for 5-4, by unleashing a backhand down the line.
It was a tale of serve and forehand as Ivanovic tried, and ultimately successfully, served out the opener. Two early forehand mistakes, then one on set point, was counterbalanced by a ferocious forehand crosscourt -- saving a break point -- and one down the line. A second break point was saved by a good serve out wide followed by a drive volley, and the set is clinched when Ivanovic forces an error off the backhand side.
Both are serving at above 70 percent on first deliveries -- 78 percent for Ivanovic -- and have more winners than unforced errors. Only four points separate the two.
Ivanovic wins the first set 6-4.
Will third time be lucky for Ana Ivanovic or will the fate train keep chugging for Dinara Safina?
Either way, a new Grand Slam champion is about to be crowned, an uplifting end to what's been a mostly gloomy fortnight, at least in terms of the weather, at Roland Garros.
On paper there's not much to separate the two: They're tied for third in aces during the tournament, serve speeds are similar and double faults are never far away. Both like to dictate from the baseline with their huge forehands and movement isn't a forte.
Yet technique might have little to do with it; nerves could be the deciding factor.
Let's hope we at least have a good one. The last six women's finals in Paris have been straight-set affairs, without a tiebreak in sight. Ivanovic knows only too well about that, disposed of by Justine Henin in a brisk 65 minutes last year.
Ravi Ubha is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.