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A look back at six of Ana’s best matches during 2006
6-3, 7-5 vs Amelie Mauresmo, Sydney, January
Ana was only just beginning her second full season as a pro but, remarkably, she was facing world No.3 Amelie Mauresmo for the fifth time. Along with the win over Hingis (see below) Ana rates this performance as one of her two best in her short career to date. The magnitude of the victory was amplified when the Frenchwoman went on to win the Australian Open a fortnight later. In fact, Mauresmo did not suffer another defeat for another 17 matches.
6-3, 6-2 vs Patty Schnyder, Warsaw, May
Ana went into this second round match handicapped by a one-sided losing record against the crafty Swiss player: she had not even won a set against Schnyder in four previous matches, but she overwhelmed the second seed, striking the first blow in each rally and overwhelming the left-hander in 74 joyous minutes. The second set featured one of Ana’s points of the year as she twice ran down smashes by the Swiss. The teenager let out a squeal of delight as she sealed victory in realisation that she had finally found a way to beat the Swiss – and convincingly, too.
6-0, 6-3 vs Samantha Stosur, Roland Garros, May
Though Stosur is by no means a clay courter, this victory contained a virtually flawless opening set by Ana. She won it in just 24 minutes and hit a total of 35 winners – against just 19 unforced errors – throughout the match: an astonishing average of 2.33 per game. “I think I played really good today,” said Ana afterwards. “I was pleased with the way I moved, the way I was stepping into the court, also the serve was very good. Everything worked well.” The win was made all the sweeter considering that Stosur had beaten Ana in the second round of the last Grand Slam, the Australian Open. It was also Ana’s first match since tearing a thigh muscle and withdrawing from her first round match in Berlin three weeks previously.
6-1, 6-4 vs Dinara Safina, Montreal, August
Playing in her first semi-final of the year, Ana simply blitzed the Russian in a 23-minute first set that saw a barrage of winners off both wings by the teenager. Inevitably, she was unable to sustain such a high level in the second set and fell 4-1 behind after a crucial Hawk-Eye decision went the way of Safina. But Ana then reeled off the final five games of the match – two on the Saturday and three on the Sunday as the match was suspended overnight due to rain – to reach her first ever Tier I final. It was another case of, “when Ana is on her game, few on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour can live with her.”
6-2, 6-3 vs Martina Hingis, Montreal, August
Ana picked up where she had left off against Safina. She made a fast start, reeling off four consecutive points in Hingis’ opening service game as she broke the Swiss. Hingis looked rattled as Ana hit winners from all over the court and never showed the slightest sign of nerves in what was the biggest match of her career so far. Ana added an extra break as Hingis served to stay in the match at 3-5 in the second set and held her arms aloft in triumph after clinching victory with more near-perfect tennis. “From the first game I let her know I was going to be aggressive,” said Ana. “It was important to stay calm and just play some good tennis. I am really, really hapy and excited."
6-7, 5-7 vs Maria Sharapova, Linz, October
Unlike the other seasons during the tennis calendar, the series of indoor events in Europe in the autumn can sometimes lack a little excitement because there is no Grand Slam to work towards. This was completely dispelled in Austria, however, as Ana took part in arguably her most intriguing match of the year. Facing then-world No.3 Sharapova for the first time, Ana more than held her own. Serve was likely the deciding factor – Ana was only returning to action after a month out with a shoulder injury – and the match featured a number of fascinating rallies. Sharapova’s match toughness – she had won her last 13 ties going into this encounter – was decisive, but Ana played some impressive, high-intensity tennis in the first of chapter of what could develop into a fascinating rivalry in the years to come.
Ana said: “These choices are good but probably I would include my win against Golovin in Montreal as well. I was really happy with how I played in that match.”
By Gavin Versi