In the final women's match at Roland Garros last year Ana Ivanovic froze in the heat of a glorious June afternoon and lost the final against Justine Henin in front of a capacity crowd. When Ivanovic walked out on to a largely empty Court Philippe Chatrier for the first match of the 2008 French Open here yesterday the skies were grey and the air was cool, but she quickly warmed to her task.
If a 6-2, 7-5 victory over Sofia Arvidsson was no less than the world No 2 should have expected against a player ranked 50 places below her, this was just the start Ivanovic needed. The 20-year-old Serb is among those best placed to take advantage of Henin's abrupt retirement, but losing to Tsvetana Pironkova, the world No 64, in the opening match of her final warm-up event in Rome less than a fortnight ago was not the best preparation.
Ivanovic, her salmon-pink dress almost matching the colour of the playing surface, immediately looked at home. While she will never be the quickest player around the court, she looks sleeker than a year ago, when she lost only two games against the same opponent at the same stage of the tournament. Ivanovic chased down drop shots to better effect than Arvidsson, who struck the ball well enough but was let down by a lack of athleticism.
A series of trademark Ivanovic forehands pummelled Arvidsson in the 24-year-old Swede's second service game and a second break took the Serb into a 5-1 lead. Arvidsson rallied with a break of her own before Ivanovic closed out the first set.
Briefly in trouble at the start of the second set, when she trailed 1-3 and 0-40 on her own serve, Ivanovic quickly regained control. On her first match point she hit her 18th forehand winner of the day, a thumping shot down the line, to claim victory in an hour and 35 minutes.
"She gave me a tough match, especially in the second set, but I really enjoyed it out there," Ivanovic said later. "Today my goal was basically just to get into a rhythm. I was really happy with my game in the first set. I wasn't overhitting and overpowering from the first shot onwards. That was my goal for today, so I'm happy about it."
She added: "Last year I'd only just broken into the top 10 and I was under much less pressure. Now I'm world No 2 and have greater expectations for myself, which I'm still learning how to deal with. I'm only 20, so I really try to enjoy every match. I think I'm doing a good job. The last few weeks have been a little bit hard, but now I feel I have my game back."
Nicole Vaidisova must be wishing she could say the same, but the world No 16 was beaten 7-6, 6-1 by Iveta Benesova, her fellow Czech and best friend. Having broken into the world's top 10 two years ago at the age of 17, Vaidisova has seen her career stall in recent times and has not won a title since before the 2006 French Open. She has taken on Tim Henman's former coach, David Felgate, but this was her sixth successive defeat.
"It's always hard to play your best friend. I have to give her credit, she played a great match," said Vaidisova, who has won only one match on tour since reaching the Australian Open fourth round in January.
The fact that Vaidisova did not seem unduly concerned by her loss – "There were a lot of positive things and you don't play great all the time" – might be down to the fact that she has a new boyfriend, the Czech player Radek Stepanek, who was engaged last year to Martina Hingis.
"She's in love, so she's happy," Benesova said.Reuse content