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Ana Ivanovic beats Safina for her 1st Grand Slam title (RG)

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Published on Jun 8, 2008

PARIS - At last, Ana Ivanovic overcame her stage fright. In two previous major finals, Ivanovic was so overwhelmed by the setting, so shaken by the stakes, that her focus fell apart and her shots went awry. Not on this day.

Already assured of rising to No. 1 in the rankings for the first time, Ivanovic collected Grand Slam title No. 1 by beating Dinara Safina 6-4, 6-3 in the French Open final Saturday.

"Many, many people ask me, 'Oh, you want to forget last year's final?' But I don't, because it was a great learning experience," said Ivanovic, a 20-year-old from Serbia.

She won only three games against Henin, then eight against Sharapova, and said of the latter defeat: "I had a few sleepless nights after that."

"My personality is I tend too much to think about what will be, and try to think too much in advance, which is definitely not too good," Ivanovic said. "So I found that breathing helps me to go back in a moment and just enjoy that very moment."

"It was tough, because a lot of emotions build up inside," said Ivanovic, who was seeded No. 2 behind Sharapova at the French Open but will pass her in Monday's rankings. "All of a sudden, you're equal again. So to keep my composure at that point — it was huge for me."

In the very next game, Ivanovic broke back with a backhand winner of her own, then pumped her fist and let out one of her many yelps of "Hajde!" (sounds like "HIGH-deh!") — Serbian for "Come on!"

The final instance in which nerves might have come into play was in the seventh game of the second set, a 20-point tussle in which Ivanovic wasted two break points and Safina blew five game points. Adding to the tension, Safina kept backing out of her serving motion because the sobs of a child crying in the upper deck could be heard throughout the stadium. Eventually, Safina held to cut Ivanovic's lead to 4-3.

"Mental games out there today," Ivanovic said.

She remembered to stop and breathe and played with aplomb down the stretch, winning eight of the next nine points to end the match.

"Once you are on the court — it's much easier said than done — but you have to be a killer," Ivanovic said through a wide smile. "You have to put them under pressure and show your presence and stuff."

It might have helped Saturday that the recently retired Henin was in the front row in a red jacket, not on the court wielding a racket.

Safina sure can wallop the ball, but she's hardly as complete a player as four-time French Open champion Henin, and never made it past the quarterfinals at any Grand Slam tournament until this one.

Nonetheless, Safina was trying to become the first woman to win a major title after having saved a match point against two opponents. Against both Sharapova in the fourth round, and No. 7 Elena Dementieva in the quarterfinals, Safina trailed by a set and 5-2 in the second set, then was a point from losing at 5-3, before coming all the way back to complete the upsets.

Those were part of a 12-match winning streak Safina carried into Saturday, including six victories over top-10 opponents.

"This time? I tried," Safina said, "but I didn't have any more of that fire."

When it was over, Ivanovic stood on a line judge's chair to climb into the stands for hugs and kisses with her parents, her brother and other supporters.

She spoke afterward about the days when she rode her bicycle to practice, thinking of being a champion one day. Those dreams might have seemed far away when, growing up in a war-torn land, Ivanovic honed her tennis skills in the winter by practicing on the floor of a drained indoor swimming pool.

This is the second consecutive Grand Slam tournament with a champion from her nation of 7.5 million people. Novak Djokovic won the men's title at the Australian Open.

"I said, 'Come on, he could do it — I could do it, too.' So it's something that for sure motivates," Ivanovic said, "and I hope also many young kids will get inspired from us."

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