Sharapova, Ivanovic seek redemption in glamour Open final

Tennis' reigning superstar meets the game's next big thing when Russia's Maria Sharapova lines up against Serbian Ana Ivanovic in a glamour final at the Au

updated: January 28, 2008 15:44 IST
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Tennis' reigning superstar meets the game's next big thing when Russia's Maria Sharapova lines up against Serbian Ana Ivanovic in a glamour final at the Australian Open on Saturday.

Both players will be on a mission at Melbourne Park to make amends for Grand Slam chokes last year, Sharapova in the final here and Ivanovic in the decider of the French Open.

They have met four times and share honours at two wins apiece, with Sharapova winning their last clash in November in straight sets.

The Russian fifth seed is the bookie's red-hot favourite to take the title this year after not only beating world number one Justine Henin but blowing her off the court on her way to a second Australian Open final in two years.

She also swept aside highly-rated opponents including Lindsay Davenport and Jelena Jankovic with ease, admitting she had unfinished business at Melbourne Park after enduring a thrashing from Serena Williams last year.

"From the beginning of the tournament, you want to go a step further than you've done in the past," the Russian pin-up said.

Her opponent Ivanovic, at 20, is the same age as Sharapova but lacks the breakthrough Grand Slam win the Russian produced aged just 17 at Wimbledon to propel herself into the celebrity stratosphere.

World number three Ivanovic had her chance last year but crumbled in the French Open final against Henin, leaving the red clay of Roland Garros vowing to improve her fitness and eliminate her big-match nerves.

"It was very overwhelming. Whole atmosphere, everything, was just too big to that moment," she said of her experience in Paris.

"So, that's something I definitely have to learn from and this time, hopefully, deal with it better."

Ivanovic's fitness work has paid off in the season-opening Grand Slam, although she acknowledged that against Sharapova she could not afford the slow start that saw her lose the first eight games in her semi-final.

"I just want to focus on that and, from first shot on, be alert," she said.

She added that she would approach the final as a routine match, rather than an encounter that has the potential to make her a Grand Slam champion and elevate her into the same league as Sharapova.

"That would be amazing, it's a dream coming true," she said of the prospect of winning her first major.

"But I don't want to think about it that way, just as another match, that's how I want to walk out there."

However, Sharapova's former mentor, Florida-based tennis guru Nick Bollettieri, was not convinced Ivanovic had yet developed the temperament to match his former charge.

Bollettieri said big-match experience would be a deciding factor, pointing out that Sharapova had won two Grand Slams and will be contesting her fourth final at a major, compared to Ivanovic's one.

"Sharapova has been here before winning two Grand Slams, and that will be the difference," he said on his website

He expected Ivanovic to push Sharapova to three sets in a slugfest.

"This should be a great match between two of the hardest hitters on the WTA Tour," he said.

"Both players like to stand near the baseline and use their groundstrokes to wear down their opponents. Both have big serves -- Sharapova is second in aces while Ivanovic is fourth in the tournament.

"Sharapova seems a little more confident around the net than Ivanovic does.

"This match is pretty even on paper."