Ana Ivanovic’s 6-2, 5-7, 7-5 victory over Maria Sharapova in the Western & Southern Open semifinals was not just hard-fought and flashy, it was also a delicious melodrama that has left fans of both players reeling long after “game, set, match” has been called. In case you missed it, here are the big moments that got everyone talking:
1. The Sven Stare.
Maria Sharapova has not been present in first sets of late, much like Serena on the opposite side of the draw. This match was no different, with Ivanovic only having to play solid and consistent tennis to take the first 6-2.
Say what you will about on court coaching, there are times when it really does add a little extra pinch of entertainment value to a match. Sven Groeneveld, coach of Sharapova, entered the court at the end of the first set to give his charge a few words of wisdom as she headed into the second. And “few words” is exactly what he offered.
After the usual on-court-coaching-bingo we’re all used to hearing: “compete…work…energy,” Sven went back to a technique we’ve heard others use to encourage Maria in the past…disparaging the opponent.
“You’re playing against her…ANA. IVANOVIC.”
Strange, that this is a technique used by more than one coach with Maria. I can’t see the benefit of this, as it seems to foster a kind of disrespect for an opponent’s ability, which can’t be a good thing to hear when they’re beating you handily. It also shows a bizarre lack of context…yes, you’re playing Ana Ivanovic, who would have been a different prospect last year, but she is playing fantastic tennis in 2014. This is an especially strange tactic to use with a player who is at her best when she faces impending doom: Sharapova is famous for her gazelle-staring-down-a-cheetah tenacity, her gritty survival instincts.
I don’t know about you, but I want to tell THAT gazelle that her foe is dangerous, and she’d better get sprinting if she wants to spend anymore time on the Serengeti.
And then came my single favorite on court coaching moment since the rule was introduced. The Sven Groeneveld silent stare. Whilst Sharapova sat, back straight, eyes closed, hands on her knees, Sven knelt in front of her and said…nothing.
Sven’s eyes never left her face, his body didn’t move, I’m not sure he was even breathing. I don’t think Maria was breathing. Hell, I’m not sure I was even breathing. He just stared. And in that stare was all of tennis history, every forehand stroke, every raise of a trophy, every drop of sweat.
We all lost something, in that stare. And we all gained something.
Maria always goes into a trance-like state of concentration between points and at changeovers–maybe now she has a coach who is willing to join her there.
Theory: One day, mid coaching session, they’ll just…ascend.
2. The Inevitable Fight Back.
Maria was down 6-2 4-0. All of us tweeted pretty much the same thing:
Oh look Maria is down a set and a break. #HerFavourite
— Andrew (@BackSwings) August 17, 2014
We were right. Maria saw the cheetah approaching, and sprinted. Ana also faltered during this set, clearly annoyed by a decision from the umpire that forced her to replay a point she felt she should have been awarded.
Sharapova took the second set 7-5 and a frustrated Ivanovic left the court to get changed.
3. Under (Blood) Pressure.
Maria was feeling grouchy herself at the change of ends as she waited for Ivanovic’s return, clearly unhappy that her momentum had been halted, and certainly not returning to the hypnotic plains of the first-set changeover. She made some complaints to the umpire, but Ana returned fairly swiftly and play continued. Until…
With Maria serving at *0-1, Ana suddenly doubled over at the baseline. She began a slow walk back to her chair, stopping intermittently to double over again, and looking distinctly distressed. Doctors were called on court, as Maria lingered at her baseline wondering if she too should return to her seat.
Soon, Ana was being asked by the doctor, “Have you taken that before?” and then she was lying on the ground having her blood pressure taken, and being fed water and pills of some description.
As suddenly as it had started, it was over, and Ana was striding back to her baseline with a quick “I’m okay” to the doctors.
Maria was visibly frustrated, but went on to hold the game and break in the next to go up 2-1.
Ana would later explain that she’d felt nauseous, and some viewers commented that it could have been related to a historic cardiac issue mentioned by Nigel Sears in commentary, but we never really had a full picture of what was wrong with Ana, as we often don’t with on court illness.
According to her former coach, Nigel Sears, Ivanović suffers from occasional (&, perhaps needless to say, distressing) rapid heart beat.
— Ana Mitrić (@ana_mitric) August 17, 2014
Whatever the cause, Maria wasn’t buying it. Ana began a fight back that left Maria furious, clearly feeling that Ana had used a medical time out to further disrupt momentum, and offered this magical moment of anger directed literally to the umpire but…well, we all know who it was really aimed at:
Tennis fans, expect “Check her blood pressure” to go down in history as one of Maria’s peak sasses, alongside “Is her last name Jankovic?” and “Isn’t she back in Poland already?”
For what it’s worth: Ana Ivanovic has no history of medical time-outs at convenient moments. I find it hard to believe that this was anything more than a strange and genuine medical anomaly.
4. Ana Takes the Win.
In the end, it was Ivanovic’s tennis and mind that held up the best. She saved two match points at 4-5 in the final set and never looked back, battling to a victory of 7-5. In the process, she also hit one of the best shots she or anyone else will hit all year:
In stark contrast to the first semi-final, a dreary encounter between Serena Williams and CarolineWozniacki, this was a match that will be remembered by tennis fans as one of the most dramatic and entertaining of the year.
BONUS ROUND: Ana and Maria Fans on Twitter.
Ana fans are renowned for pretty much hating everything their favorite player does, disparaging her every shot, and generally behaving as if she’s losing 6-0 5-0 throughout every match regardless of the scoreline. Something I learned last night: some Maria fans have a similar faith in their favorite…
@BackSwings FOR GOODNESS SAKE SERENA WILL WIN IN FREAKING STRAIGHTS IT'S NOT EVEN A QUESTION.
— Jordan (@heelsrule1988) August 17, 2014
Stay enthusiastic, tennis fans!