Step by step, over the course of this ASB Classic Ana Ivanovic has been getting back to being the player she once was.
Yesterday the Serbian beat Kurumi Nara, of Japan, 6-2 6-3 to advance to today's semifinal against Kirsten Flipkens and whatever it cost Tennis Auckland to bring Ivanovic to New Zealand, she's more than paid them back.
While her victory wasn't as convincing as the 6-1 6-1 win over Johanna Larsson on Wednesday, she was up against a trickier opponent, who could frustrate and get so many balls back.
Yet the former world No 1 and 2008 Roland Garros winner never looked like losing the match and played some thrilling tennis.
"Obviously I am very pleased to be through to the semifinal," Ivanovic said.
"It was a very tough match and the score doesn't really indicate how close it was.
"I was really surprised by her game. She really played well, but I was happy I was able to close it out in that service game in the second set.
"I definitely did make some more errors today than I did yesterday.
"Yesterday I played almost a perfect match, but I still had a good percentage on my serve, which I was happy about."
Ivanovic came into this tournament ranked 16 in the world. The 110 points she's already bagged by making it to the semifinals should take her up one spot. She is closing in on being back in the top 10, which is where a player of her talent should be.
"I think I have the game, it's just putting it together more often," she said.
"I feel like I've played matches and there are matches where I can easily beat the top five girls, then other times I could easily lose to someone ranked 100.
"So it's being more consistent and getting that game over and over again, day after day."
At 5pm today she'll play the third-seeded Belgian Flipkens, who beat qualifier Sachie Ishizu, of Japan, 6-4 7-5 yesterday.
Flipkens and Ivanovic played doubles together this week, but lost their quarterfinal against Lucie Hradecka and Michaella Krajicek 3-6 6-4 10-3 yesterday.
They are good friends off the court and Ivanovic says it is tough playing someone you're close to.
"She's definitely a tricky player, because she uses a lot of slice and then she runs around her forehand and can strike the ball well," she said.
"Even though she's not the tallest girl on tour, she still gets her serve through fast, so it's going to be tricky.
"She likes to come in too, so I'll be staying low, staying focused and looking at the ball carefully."
Flipkens said she would also try to put their friendship to the side.
"We are good friends but once you are on the court and playing you have to try to focus on you," she said.
"It's maybe a little more difficult mentally to keep concentrated and be focused. In the end you have to play your own game.
"I'm a small player," she added.
"I'm not as tall as the other ones who just try to hit it. I try to mix it up and let them think.
"It's always good with a slice and I come to the net so I mix it up and I have a good serve.
"It's more difficult for them to play against my type of player than someone who is playing forehand, backhand 200mph.
"I'm just trying to do my thing."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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