Ana Ivanovic, a grand slam winner and seven times a season-end top 20 player reached the first grass court final of her career on Saturday at the Birmingham Open.
The 26-year-old former world number one from Serbia did that with a thumping 6-2 6-2 win over Zhang Shuai, a steadily improving Chinese player contesting her first Premier level event in only her second grass court tournament.
By contrast Ivanovic has been trying to overcome the uncertainties of this surface for most of her career, and claimed she is finally achieving that at the Wimbledon buildup event.
She certainly hit the ball with unstoppable force off the ground, especially from the forehand, and grew conspicuously in confidence as the match went on.
However that happened only after an indifferent start in which she went 0-2 down
“It was important to stay calm, because it’s grass and it can slip away from you fast,” she said. “I was happy to stay calm and get back into the match.”
She also did so by improving her ratio of first serves, creating a better platform for her ground-stroking power, which in turn made Zhang feel that she had to do more with the ball, bringing more errors.
The 25-year-old from Tianjin sometimes generated the rhythm and the angles which had helped her to three good wins during the week, but found it difficult to reverse the tide of the match once it had turned against her.
After going 0-3 down in the second set Zhang showed brief signs of getting back into it at 2-4, but at that stage Ivanovic found some of her most flowing tennis which almost made her look like a grass court natural.
She was aided by a bad bounce which took her to match point, which she converted with a trademark deep return combined with an imperious forehand topspin winner.
“Zhang is a great player and you are going to hear a lot more of her,” Ivanovic said of the woman who will not this year emulate her compatriot Li Na, the winner of the title four years ago, but who may nevertheless have the consolation of rising above her career highest ranking of 34.
Ivanovic added: “It would be wonderful to win a grass court title now. It would be a dream come true. But it’s also good for Wimbledon, having some good wins.”
She will play the final against the winner between Casey Dellacqua, the 16th seeded Australian aiming for her first WTA Tour singles final, and Barbora Zahlavova Strycova, an unseeded Czech seeking her first grass court final.