Ana enters round four

Ana enters round four

Ana clinched a spot in the fourth round of the Australian Open in Melbourne following a 6-7(8), 6-4, 6-2 victory over world No. 17 Samantha Stosur. The 26-year-old fought back after losing an opening set which she dominated, to emerge victorious after two hours and 14 minutes and reach the last 16 for the third straight year.

The opening set was definitely one to remember, filled with drama, tension, unconverted set points and an interruption in the middle of a stirring tiebreak due to a heavy shower above the Rod Laver Arena. Ana was at her best in the early exchanges, winning both of her opening two service games to love and earning the first break point with an extraordinary forehand drop shot in game four. Unfortunately for Ana, Stosur came up with a big first serve to thwart the break opportunity.

Although Ana opened the contest in great style, her first service percentage quickly started to shrink. She was broken in the seventh game and as she was unable to bring a single return back in court during the next Stosur service game, the Australian was now fully in command, holding a 5-3 lead.

Ana wrestled with own serve in the following game. It brought up a first set point for the Australian and as Ana hit a double fault at that particular moment, Stosur was on her way to the chair in the thought she had clinched the opening set. However, Ana invoked a Hawk-Eye challenge, was proved to be right and, crucially, held her serve.

Nevertheless, Stosur was still ahead by a break and she wangled four more set points on her own serve, all of which Ana saved with some remarkably clean winners, including a sharp angled, backhand cross-court, and a forehand return winner. Ana eventually managed to break back and took the contest to a tiebreak.

Both players had won 39 points as the first set entered into a tiebreak, a statistic that speaks volumes for the intensity of the match at this moment. In the tiebreak, it was Ana who seemed on her way to wrap up the opening set as she raced into a 6-3 lead. This time, Stosur’s moment to turn around the situation had arrived and she got rid of all three set points. And yet, more drama was to follow.

At 7-all, rain began to pour in the middle of a rally, which caused Ana to completely miss-time the skidding bounce of a ball with her forehand. Play was suspended for 20 minutes in order to close the roof. Once back on court, Ana saved one more set point for the world No.17 – the sixth in total during the first set – but at 9-8 up, Stosur finally ended the 65-minute opening set.

The loss of the first set didn’t affect Ana’s outlook on court. She hit two clean winners to start the second act and as Stosur added an unforced error, the 14th seed immediately wangled three break points. However, Ana had to be patient until the fifth game to make the important breakthrough, as the Australian wiped away all break opportunities on that first occasion. A second break chance in game five eventually did the damage and Ana surged into a 4-2 advantage, following up the break with a love game on her own serve.

Stosur clung on and won her next service game in a convincing manner to force Ana to finish the task on her serve. She fell 0-30 behind, but thanks to some better serving and an ace, she managed to seal the second set 6-4.

Ana could not begin the deciding set in a more emphatic fashion. She made an unforced error during the first rally, but then won eight points on the bounce to set up a 2-0 lead.

The former world No.1 stayed on top until a crucial sixth game in which Ana took a 30-15 lead. She was also behind the steering wheel in the following rally, but was unable to finish the point as Stosur chased every possible forehand stroke from Ana’s racket, displayed excellent defensive skills and eventually forced the 26-year-old into a mistake. At 30-all, Ana served a double fault to grant Stosur a break opportunity. She saved it and followed it up with a phenomenal lob. Finally, Ana had snapped Stosur’s resistance.

Indeed, the sixth game turned out to be the final show of resistance from the Australian. Ana broke Stosur once more in the next game to score a double break and she served out the match shortly after, firing a first service bomb which gave her an easy put-away forehand winner on match point.

"I thought was great quality match today," said Ana, who finished the contest with 46 winners and 40 unforced errors.

"Just really happy after losing the first set to still stay composed and play some good tennis and win.

"I think at the end of the match I made the longest scream ever. It was a very exciting match I think for everyone. It was such a high level of tennis from the first moment on. The crowd was really into it. I got into it, too, and I enjoyed it."

Ana’s win sets up a fourth round clash against World No.1 and five-time champion Serena Williams on Sunday.

The American, who is hot favourite for the title, marched past Daniela Hantuchova from Slovakia 6-3, 6-3.

By Joeri Moerman