Ana advances to Australian Open final

Ana advances to Australian Open final

Ana reached her second Grand Slam final by beating ninth seed Daniela Hantuchova 0-6, 6-3, 6-4 in a pulsating match.

A phenomenal comeback, die-hard attitude and gutsy play in the end led to another milestone in Ana’s career. The 20-year-old celebrated her rise to No.2 in the rankings by becoming the only player other than world No.1 Justine Henin to reach two Grand Slam finals in the past 12 months.

An unrecognizable Ana was losing 6-0, 2-0 before she cultivated a fierce comeback to set up a blockbuster final against fifth seed and fellow 20-year-old Maria Sharapova.

Although four years older than Ana, Hantuchova started the match playing the role of the inexperienced player, as she was contesting her first Grand Slam semi-final. However, she did not feel the pressure, dictating points and making Ana look like a big-stage newbie.

Ana did not start as strongly as she had done against Venus Williams in the quarter-finals. Her footwork was a little slow and she could not stop from making unforced errors. Hantuchova, on the other hand, painted the lines with both her forehand and backhand, and was dominant on serve.

The Slovakian took advantage of Ana’s stiffness to break serve twice and take a 4-0 lead. The Slovak made good use of her return of serve, aiming right in the middle-court, so as not to give Ana a proper shot angle. She also blasted harmful cross-court forehands and did not concede a single game during the first chapter.

Not only was it the first set Ana had lost during the tournament, but also the second time in her whole career that she did not win a single game in a set. The previous occasion came last year at Indian Wells, where she lost to Austria’s Sybille Bammer 6-7(6), 6-0, 6-3.

Ana lost serve in the opening game of the second set when a forehand approach hit by Hantuchova touched the line (after verification by Hawk-Eye).

The fourth seed won her first game to trail 1-2, thanks to her trademark forehand, which finally found the line and turned into a winner. The crowd erupted in strong applause.

This game was the key Ana needed to open the door and let the fireworks out. She grew in confidence, stepped forward, began hammering forehand winners and took a lead for the first time in the match (3-2).

Hantuchova’s expression was beginning to change. Given what had happened in the first set, she perhaps wasn’t expecting such resistance, although she had lost to Ana in three sets last year after holding a 6-3, 3-0 lead in the Luxembourg final.

At 3-4 Hantuchova missed an easy forehand and a backhand, then double-faulted to lose serve. Ana accepted the gift and won the set with a beautiful backhand.

Ana delivered effective serves, displayed great firepower, but lacked consistency to establish a lead. In the third set she won a disputed sixth game, in which she saved a break point, to level the score at 3-3. The quality of the match was increasing as the end approached.

If you blink, you lose, became the motto. Hantuchova was the first one to fail the exam, when she double faulted and committed two unforced errors to give Ana a golden opportunity at 4-4, 15-40.

A Nadalesque run was the big picture of the match, the tale of the hero. Hantuchova rushed to the net, tried a neat cross court backhand with great touch, but Ana went for it, retrieved the ball, and the Slovak, surprised by her opponent’s speed, missed the easy volley. Ana fell to her knees and screamed in relief. She knew she had it in her hands.

The video and photo cameras got ready for the best shot. And Ana didn’t make them wait. A confident last game on serve sealed yet another fine comeback.

Asked to explain the story of the match, Ana said: “It was definitely a disappointing start for me. The first game I was a little bit nervous and my serve didn't work very well, and I didn't move as good as I should have.

“But after the first game I just had a feeling she was playing really good and I was always on the back foot and always defending. I didn't find my rhythm, and I knew I had to go for the shots before her, because she likes to dominate. I just couldn't find my rhythm.

“I tried to hang in there, you know, to stay with her. In the second set in the first game I had a chance to win the game. I didn't and got a break down, but I just was so, so happy I managed to fight through that second set.

“And then once I managed to win it, I felt much more comfortable, and also a lot more confidence.

“How I managed to win, I’m not really sure! The crowd helped me so much. At the end I was exhausted, but really happy.”

Ana will face Sharapova at 1.30pm local time on Saturday.

Photo: Manuela Davies / doubleXposure.com