Ivanovic and friends paint the town pink after first flush of Grand Slam triumph

Paul Newman
Monday 09 June 2008 00:00 BST

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


Like in any major city, the Parisian police are prepared for most eventualities late on a Saturday night. It can be safely assumed, however, that they experienced a first in the small hours of yesterday morning when they stopped four men attired in salmon-pink dresses under the Arc de Triomphe. Among the witnesses to the incident was Ana Ivanovic, who had been celebrating her first Grand Slam in a nearby restaurant.

The four men were Scott Byrnes, her fitness trainer, Sven Groeneveld, her coach, Marcin Rozpedski, her hitting partner, and Milos, her brother. They had promised the 20-year-old Serb a fortnight earlier that if she won the French Open they would run round the Arc de Triomphe wearing her tennis outfit.

From the moment Ivanovic won her first-round match here her entourage must have started to wonder what they were letting themselves in for. She dropped only one set in the whole tournament, against her compatriot Jelena Jankovic in the semi-finals, and has proved over the last two weeks that she is a worthy holder of the world No 1 ranking which she will inherit today.

Saturday's 6-4, 6-3 victory over Dinara Safina was a logical conclusion to 12 months of progress. Having frozen so badly in last year's final against the now retired Justine Henin, who presented her with the Suzanne Lenglen Trophy on Saturday, Ivanovic showed with her much-improved display against Maria Sharapova in the Australian Open final in January that she had the mental strength to claim the game's biggest prizes.

Another key difference this year has been her fitness. The 2008 Ivanovic is a sleeker version of last year's model and her improved mobility has strengthened her defensive game. Nowhere was this more evident than on what proved to be a crucial point in the second set, with Safina serving at 1-1 and 40-30. In one of the best rallies of the match Ivanovic defended deep behind the baseline to return two smashes and then raced to the net to chase down a drop shot before hitting a clever backhand winner.

Ivanovic went on to win the game with a huge forehand return. There were no more breaks until Safina, at 3-5, finally wilted under the pressure of Ivanovic's forehand returns and dropped her serve to love. There is no more effective shot in the women's game than Ivanovic's majestic forehand. The inside-out version, struck flat and hard across court, is a fearsome weapon that frequently felled Safina. The Russian, playing in her first Grand Slam final, gave a decent account of herself, but in a showdown between two players who like to go for their shots the world No 14 always looked the more likely to make mistakes.

After some retail therapy at Louis Vuitton and Chanel this morning, Ivanovic flies home to Belgrade, where there are likely to be more celebrations. Serbia's first female Grand Slam champion is due to play at Eastbourne next week, though it would be no surprise if she decided to rest instead in preparation for the start of Wimbledon in a fortnight's time.

Completing the French-Wimbledon double is one of the tallest orders in the game, but Ivanovic proved with her run to last year's semi-finals at the All England Club that she can play on grass. While her volleys can be suspect and she rarely goes to the net out of choice, Ivanovic's booming forehand and improved athleticism make her a threat on any surface. For the last two years she has lost at Wimbledon to the eventual champions, Amélie Mauresmo and Venus Williams.

"To tell the truth, I'm still trying to enjoy this victory and not thinking about grass," Ivanovic said when asked about her chances of winning at Wimbledon. "A lot of players will now play their best tennis against me, but I still think I have a good chance. I've been working really hard and that has brought results."

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