- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 7, 2008

— (AP) – This time Ana Ivanovic was ready for the French Open final.

Showing no sign of the nerves that afflicted her a year ago, Ivanovic won her first Grand Slam title Saturday by beating Dinara Safina 6-4, 6-3.

By reaching the final, Ivanovic had already assured herself of being ranked No. 1 for the first time next week. And the Serb’s performance was No. 1-caliber against Safina.

“I’m just so happy I kept my composure until the end,” Ivanovic said during the trophy ceremony. “Last year’s final was a great learning experience.”

A shaky Ivanovic played in her first major at Roland Garros in 2007 and won only three games from Justine Henin. But against Safina she was as cool as the 65-degree weather, showing hardly a bead of perspiration even as she sprinted from corner to corner retrieving shots.

The 20-year-old Ivanovic slugged winners from both sides, feasted on Safina’s sometimes shaky serve and scurried to extend points, which led to plenty of entertaining rallies. Ivanovic won most of them, including one frantic exchange that she finished off with a delicate drop shot and ferocious fist pump.

Ivanovic won match point with a backhand up the line, then dropped her racket, collapsed into a crouch and covered her face. After blowing kisses to the crowd, she used a chair to climb into the stands and share hugs with family and friends.

“This was amazing,” Ivanovic said. “I still don’t realize what happened. As a kid, when I used to go by bike to practice, I used to dream of this.”

Henin, a four-time French Open champion who retired last month while ranked No. 1, applauded from the front row.

For the third consecutive year Sunday, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal will meet in the men’s final. The top-ranked Federer will again try for the only Grand Slam title to elude him, and Nadal will attempt to become the first player since Bjorn Borg in 1981 to win a fourth consecutive French Open title.

Ivanovic’s worst moment came serving at 4-3 in the first set, when she squandered a 40-love lead by losing the next five points. She quickly regrouped and won five of the next six games to take command.

First-time Grand Slam finalist Safina fended off a match point in consecutive rounds this week, rallying each time after she lost the first set and trailed 5-2 in the second. But the Russian ran out of comebacks.

“I didn’t have any more the fire that I had those matches,” Safina said. “I was tired.”

She needed 20 points to hold for 3-4 in the second set, and from 15-all in the next game, Ivanovic swept the last seven points.

Seeded 13th, Safina was trying to join her brother, two-time Grand Slam champion Marat Safin, in winning a major title. They’re the first sister and brother to reach a Grand Slam final.

Safin was in London preparing for the grass-court season and didn’t attend the final.

“Somehow I thought he might come,” Safina said with a smile, “but he didn’t.”

The final was the third in the past five major tournaments for Ivanovic. She was runner-up at this year’s Australian Open to Maria Sharapova, who will be supplanted in the No. 1 ranking next week by Ivanovic.

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