After the heroics of her quarter-final domination of Agnieska Radwanksa, Daniela Hantuchova nearly repeated the trick against her much tougher semi-final opponent Ana Ivanovic. After producing 45 minutes of yet more faultless tennis the Slovak had stormed to a 6-0 2-0 lead.
Rarely missing a first serve, and spilling winners from every area of the court Hantuchova had lost none of the consistency and composure that saw her through the round previous. Surprisingly it was her younger but more – at this level – experienced opponent who was frozen with nerves and awestruck at her opponents play in equal measure.
Then, a set and a break down and surely on the way out, the Serb showed why she is knocking the loudest on Justine’s door. Ivanovic started to make some winners and relaxed just enough to send a vital message to Hantuchova that this wasn’t going to be whitewash.
Unlike Radwanska who never seemed consistently solid, Ivanovic’s recovery shocked the Slovak; not into rushing or playing badly, but (as expected) perhaps making her realise just what she had achieved – a few games away from destroying a player who many thought would beat her easily.
Mistakes crept in, and Ivanovic – buoyed on by a far greater level of support – took the second set after a Daniela-of-old double fault in the eighth game gifted the Serb a break to lead 5-3.
The final set, just shy of an hour was an incredibly tense affair which often sparkled with some magical tennis from both women. Ivanovic simply played solid tennis throughout, no real wobbles or drops in confidence, only infrequent over-excited shot-choices. It was Hantuchova who would decide proceedings; would she continue to play aggressive and therefore be too much for an opponent playing at about 85% or would she play too conservative and risk the occasion getting to her.
Both players challenged regularly and unsuccessfully in the third, with Hantuchova in particular making some uncharacteristically poor objections. Two crucial games ultimately decided the match; a long sixth game with Ivanovic serving at 2-3, break points were saved, chances for a Hantuchova 4-2 lead came and went. At 4-4, Hantuchova finally collapsed and handed the break after a double fault made life hard at 0-30 only to claw back to 30-40 before dumping a slightly simple half-volley into the net.
Hantuchova was increasingly riled by her opponents Sharapova-esque (staring straight at her opponent) screams of jubilation after every point, and in her post match interview she expressed disgust over an apparent Ivanovic tactic of squeaking her shoes before receiving.
“Yeah, that’s ridiculous, I think. I was really surprised with that. I think it’s unfair. It’s a distraction to the server. Yeah, we played before and she never did it”. Not one to make such excuses usually, the squeaks were noticeable but over time the Slovak will learn to block out such things at a crucial stage in a Grand Slam.
The loss was expected but the manner in which Daniela threw it away will hurt, it has been a good tournament too – yes she had been lucky with the draw – Safarova, Chakvetadze and Kuznetsova all avoided – but this will be a fine year for Hantuchova who will rise to at least number seven in the World rankings.