It took some time to get going but Ana Ivanovic and Venus Williams eventually delivered a final worthy of two former world No 1s with Ivanovic prevailing 6-2 5-7 6-4 in an energy-sapping two hours and 19 minutes.
It had been one of the most eagerly anticipated finals in the history of the ASB Classic as former French Open champion and current world No 16 Ivanovic took on seven-time grand slam singles winner Williams.
For the first hour, it was entirely comfortable for Ivanovic but she was then pushed hard by Williams who tried desperately to find her range. The American showed plenty of grit to send the match into a third set but Ivanovic always held the initiative in the best final seen at the ASB Classic for some time.
The tennis wasn’t always of the highest quality, particularly from Williams, but there was plenty of drama.
Ivanovic had a match-point when serving at 5-4 in the second set, before Williams awoke and played her best tennis of the match. She broke Ivanovic twice to take the second set but was broken in the first game of the third set, when she double faulted twice and couldn’t quite get back into the match.
Williams had two break points when Ivanovic was serving for the match but the Serb held her nerve.
“It was very tough,” Ivanovic said. “Venus showed once again what a great sport she has been over the past years and I hope for many more years to come.
“At the end of the second set I made a few errors that I didn’t make up to that point. I really tried to still play, enjoy it, move forward and be aggressive. It’s been a great atmosphere all week and I really enjoyed today’s final, too.”
It was Ivanovic’s second win in 10 matches between the two and first since the quarter-finals of the 2008 Australian Open. It was also her 12 WTA title and first since Bali in 2011.
Her serve was a lot more consistent – she hit 67 per cent of her first serves to Williams’ 51 – she moved well and hit a number of quality forehand winners. She also fought hard, holding two crucial service games in the final set when facing break points.
The Serbian dropped to the ground in celebration after Williams sent a forehand long on match point.
She vowed to return next year, minutes after collecting US$43,000 for winning the tournament.
“Definitely,” she said. “It’s already in the calendar.”
Williams also expressed her desire to return and admitted she had already told sister and world No 1 Serena they should play in Auckland in the future but she also acknowledged she was beaten by the better player today.
“She played so well,” she said. “We have had a lot of great matches and this is yet another one. I just kept fighting, despite the odds. She was playing so well and I’m glad we were able to put on such a great final.”
By MICHAEL BROWN
PHOTO: SANDRA MU/GETTY IMAGES
WINNING MOMENT: Ana Ivanovic, of Serbia, holds the trophy after winning the singles final against Venus Williams, of USA, during day 6 of the ASB Classic at ASB Tennis Centre on Saturday, in Auckland.