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Ivanovic, Sharapova scratch through

Friday, May 30, 2008
By Matthew Cronin

No2 seed and 2007 finalist Ana Ivanovic is not playing perfectly yet, but she rediscovered her form and ferocious forehand to knock out Dane Caroline Wozniacki 6-4 6-1 in the third round on Friday. Top seed Maria Sharapova also struggled to find her game but successfully completed her rain-delayed match in a 6-2, 3-6, 6-2 victory over American Bethanie Mattek.

Ivanovic struggled to hold serve in an erratic first set, but in the second set, found her rhythm and began to take over off the ground, punching holes on Wozniacki's wall with deep, well struck balls.

“I did play well, but I thought the match I played against [Lucie] Safarova was even better, and I served also better in that match,” she said. “Today I didn't go for as many first serves as I probably should have. But, I just tried to find my rhythm back again and to be aggressive and don't force it too much, don't flatten out a lot, and try to move her with heavy balls. That's something I did well in the second set and I was really, really happy about it.”

The Serb, who will meet unseeded Petra Cetkovska of the Czech Republic in the fourth round, had a rough spring post her run to the Australian Open final and Indian Wells title, but she is now picking up steam. While she is primarily an offensive player, Ivanovic, has improved her conditioning and footwork and is a better defensive player. She knows that if she is to complete a maiden voyage to her Grand Slam title, that all the elements of her game are going to have to be working.

“I want to keep up the good work and work hard for every point,” she said. “I think on a clay court it's very important. Especially if the conditions are tough and the courts are heavy, you have to really work hard. There are not many winners, and you have to accept that, and that's what I'm working on.”

Sharapova struggled for the second consecutive match, but not as much as he did in her opener against Evgeniya Rodina, when she was nearly knocked out of the tournament in an 8-6 in the third set win. On Friday against Mattek, she has barely woken up before she had lost the second set, but in the third set, she was able to get her feet set and employ her power game. While she did not serve well once again, her laser-like ground-strokes and returns were quite effective.

Sharapova is walking a fine line between trying to impose her normal, first-strike game and adjusting to the heavier conations of clay, where she forced to work the points more. But her mentality is clearly evolving.

“To be honest, I just want to go out and play my game,” said Sharapova, who will face Italy's Karin Knapp in the third round. “It's as simple as that. And sometimes you get caught up in thinking that you want to do something more, something extra, and something special that sometimes is out of your hands. Especially on a surface that's more challenging to you, that where you're going to have to hit more balls and you're going to have to move a few extra steps to the ball. You have to be more patient. I'm definitely getting better at that, and I'm getting smarter out there. But sometimes you want to go back to the roots? You just want to drive the ball, and that's just not enough at times. I'm not a clay court specialist that's going to stand 10 feet behind the baseline and retrieve balls back. I'm going to stick to my guns and do what I do best. But I'm also going to play patiently if I want to win matches, especially against, physically challenging players that do, hit 10 balls back.”

“But I also have to realize, their game is a lot more physical than I am. If I feel tired then they're feeling 20 times more tired, because they're the one doing all the running.”

The 21-year-old Sharapova won her first clay court title in April at Amelia Island, reached the quarters of Charleston, where she fell to Serena Williams, and the semifinals of Rome, which she pulled out of a calf injury. Even though at six feet two inches she is not the greatest mover on tour, she has been willing to commit to the grind, as she is one of the tour's greatest fighters.

Last year at Roland Garros, she squeaked out a 10-8 in the third set victory over Patty Schnyder before falling exhausted to Ivanovic in the semifinals. While the three-time Grand Slam champion realizes that clay will never be her best surface, she is prepared to roll around in the dirt for as long as it takes during the fortnight.

“That's clay for you,” she said. “Sometimes you're not always going to hold serve. You're going to break more than you usually break, because, look, last year I was serving 85 miles per hour and I got to the semifinals. It was like a miracle. I'm not going to get away with that. It's a combination of things. Like I want to do the right things, but also I have to be patient. Sometimes it's definitely not going to be as easy as, maybe on grass or hardcourts. But that's the beauty of it.”

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