Ana Ivanovic had a tough fight on her hands at the Western & Southern Open Thursday afternoon. The Serb went through low moments, a marathon of breaks and a dominating third set to defeat American Sloane Stephens 2-6, 6-4, 6-1 on Stadium Court Three at the Linder Family Tennis Center.
The Serb earned a pass Tuesday with a walkover from Venus Williams as she pulled out of the tournament. She moved into the third round to face another strong American like Williams. Stephens has been playing quite a bit of tennis that could help her in the long run while Ivanovic has been inactive in competition until now. She opened her tournament journey with a victory over Spain’s Carla Suarez-Navarro and then a win over Mona Barthel in three sets.
The two have only met three times with the Serb holding her 2-1 lead over the 22 year old. Stephen’s won their last matchup at Indian Wells last year and would more than likely put up a similar fight. The key for Ivanovic will certainly be the rest she required from play at Toronto but if she didn’t respond well off the set, she might find herself in trouble.
Trouble fast approached the former number one as Stephens took the first game on the break, held serve in the second and broke serve a second time in Game Three. The American took a commanding 4-0 lead until a fight from Ivanovic helped her to get on deuce to prevent further ground being lost. After five long breaks, Ivanovic got into the game with a much-needed victory against Stephens. She went further into her success landing a second straight win.
Three was not a charm for the Serb as she was beat in a three break battle on deuce where Stephens once again took charge. When playing for the set, the American pulled off a clean triple break to end the set in 38 minutes. Aside from having a 62 percent first serve, Stephens’s real help was from the Serb’s four double faults and 16 unforced errors.
Things had a slight positive change for Ivanovic as she won the first game with a good fight from her end. Stephen’s responded with a love service in the second attempting to go flat out on the Serb. Ivanovic had none of that as she answered with a big opening lead in Game Three to sit out front. Stephens wouldn’t let enjoy the feeling of being on top for long as she rallied in Game Four to level back.
The battle continued with Ivanovic out in front 4-3 until a critical moment occurred for her to take the lead. Stephens did everything to prevent that happening force deuce on her serve. After 34 minutes and numerous breaks between the two tennis stars, it was Stephens who evened the set back at four all with one assured to gain the lead and the leverage along with it.
“I really tried to push her and try to push myself in that game and even though I lost I knew how crucial it was for the next service game to be strong one,” Ivanovic said about Game Eight. “I managed to stay mentally strong and put pressure on the next return game and was very happy about that.”
Ivanovic was the first to break ahead keeping the draw on deuce short winning on two breaks to play for the tying set. She got it done in a strong finish where a set point came on Stephen’s firing a unforced error to end the longest set of the match going beyond an hour. The players were very close with each showing their fatigue in the second with the deciding set still to go.
There it was the Serb who took everything she had and dominated quickly. She won a love service in the first game before breaking Stephens on serve to gain possession. The 3-0 lead came with little resistance from the American who found herself outside looking in. The gap opened wide as Ivanovic continued to put ground in front of her and Stephens playing for the match at 5-0.
The American had one last chance to make a comeback with the ball in her hand. She put the Serb on to match point with unforced errors, but in her efforts to stay alive, she forced herself into deuce and won the game. Ivanovic had the chance to serve for the match herself, but her opponent pushed back to force yet another deuce. Two unforced errors from Stephens gave Ivanovic the win that ended a wild match on court. The entire fight took two hours and two minutes
“She’s a great player,” Ivanovic said about her match with Stephens during her on court interview. “I think were gonna see a lot of her in the future. She came out really strong, put a lot of pressure on me. I was struggling to get the first hit on the ball but I was really happy that I managed to hang in and push her and change things and it worked out. I managed to play good tennis when I needed it.”
As the former number one puts another notch in her record books, she’ll have to prepare heavily when she faces current world number one Serena Williams in the quarterfinals Friday.