By Chris Skelton
Facing a fellow Roland Garros champion, Ana Ivanovic extended her perfect career record against Francesca Schiavone with a relatively routine 6-0 6-4 victory to open top-seeded Serbia’s Hyundai Hopman Cup 2013 campaign.
Clenching her fist, the former world No.1 fought off two break points to survive a tense opening game and parlayed the momentum into two break points of her own.
“I think it’s been an amazing start,” said Ivanovic. “I think the first game was a bit crucial, I managed to hold out after seeing a few break points and then I really got into the match and I didn’t do much wrong in that first set and in the second set she got tougher, she started playing better and I still tried to be unrest and I’m really happy I managed to win today, it really means a lot.”
Schiavone displayed her signature flair in weaving a running pass around her opponent at the net on the second and twirled her arm with panache. Saving another break point just as boldly with a second-serve ace, she still dropped her serve in the end when a backhand drifted wide. Ivanovic struck a series of penetrating first serves, despite struggling with her second, to consolidate her lead.
Still under relentless pressure on her serve, Schiavone could do little to defend herself from her opponent’s increasingly aggressive returning as the set quickly slipped away from her. Errors continued to flow from her racquet, especially from her usually trusty backhand, and Ivanovic wrapped up the bagel set with a deep return that drew a forehand error from the Italian.
Having won such a lopsided set, the Serbian faced the challenge of staying focused in a match against an opponent certain to raise her level sooner or later. Ivanovic held serve with ease to start the second set before Schiavone inevitably awakened to stay within range.
Showing more optimism in her body language, the veteran struck an impressive series of smashes to threaten her opponent’s serve for the first time since the first game. Still, Ivanovic persevered to stay unbroken on the day as her fierce forehand battered through Schiavone’s defenses in her next two service games.
The match settled into a lull as each player held through the first six games of the second set without facing a break point. In a key seventh game, a stylishly placed backhand pass by Ivanovic dipped low onto the sideline just outside Schiavone’s range, producing a yelp of joy from the Serb. Taken to deuce for the second straight service game, she showed a few glimpses of frustration but held after an ace out wide.
Within sight of the finish line now, Ivanovic unleashed bold returns in the next game and dictated the rallies with forehands that jerked the Italian from side to side. Schiavone could not handle the pace and soon surrendered the set’s first break of serve, putting the match on her opponent’s racquet in the next game.
Unable to convert two match points, Ivanovic dropped serve for the first time when her opponent delicately feathered a drop volley with the touch that has made her such a threat on clay.
“I got a little nervous I guess, I kept thinking you know about a few different things and really was excited about playing such a good match but you know I managed to get my composure back in the break and then played well that service game of hers.”
But Schiavone still had her back to the wall when she served in the next game, an ominous sign considering her struggles throughout the match in service games. She quickly fell behind double match point after a sequence of questionable shot selections.
Schiavone saved the first with characteristic courage but could not convert a routine volley on the second, handing Ivanovic the victory and Serbia a 1-0 lead.
In the second singles match of the session, Novak Djokovic can clinch victory for Serbia with a win over Andreas Seppi.
Chris Skelton is a freelance tennis journalist, you can read more of his writing at sharapovanovic.com.