They all said that Serena Williams was the short-priced favourite to win this year’s Australian Open trophy.
Well, someone forgot to tell former world number one Ana Ivanovic, who produced the biggest shock of the tournament with a stunning three-set victory on Sunday.
The glamorous Serbian turned the Australian Open on its head by sending the current world number one and sentimental title favourite crashing out of the tournament with a courageous victory that almost nobody saw coming.
The 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 victory marked Ivanovic’s first win over Serena in five attempts and the shock result all but ended the American’s attempt to become the first woman since Steffi Graf in 1988 to complete a Calendar Grand Slam.
After Williams won the opening set with minimum fuss, it appeared as though a regulation victory would be on the cards, but a determined and fired-up Ivanovic would claim the next two sets to claim what is now arguably the greatest victory of her up-and-down career.
It marks the second year in a row in which the American had lost a match at the Australian Open after winning the first set, after losing to Sloane Stephens in the quarter-finals last year. Prior to that, she was undefeated in Melbourne after winning the first set.
It also ended Williams’ bid to win a sixth title at the Australian Open, and the American will now leave Melbourne Park without the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Trophy for the third consecutive year. Williams did not play here in 2011 due to a serious foot injury.
In the three years (including this year) since, she crashed out to Ekaterina Makarova with a quarter-final showdown against Maria Sharapova in sight, then let slip a one-set lead to Sloane Stephens to lose their quarter-final and now self-destructed in the face of the resurgent former world number one.
For Ivanovic, the breakthrough victory will now see her take Williams’ slot at the top half of the draw and if she can continue to keep up the impressive form that she has shown so far this year, you never know what can happen!
Ironically, it also took the Serb five attempts to beat Venus Williams, whom she also beat to end her two-year title curse in Auckland a fortnight ago.
The victory over Serena not only saw her claim the double over the Williams sisters, but also saw her winning streak extend to nine, her longest since 2008 and currently the longest so far this year (joint with Li Na).
It also keeps intact her unbeaten record against the sisters south of the equator, with Ivanovic’s other victory over Venus Williams coming in the quarter-finals of the 2008 Australian Open.
Three women who will be happy about the result is the remainder of the top four seeds that still remain, namely Victoria Azarenka, Maria Sharapova and Li Na.
Li, who progressed to the quarter-finals courtesy of a 6-2, 6-0 thrashing of Ekaterina Makarova earlier in the day, is now odds-on to return to the championship match, where she will be hoping for third time lucky after losing to Kim Clijsters and Victoria Azarenka in 2011 and last year, respectively.
Li would have had to face Serena in the semi-finals but now Ana Ivanovic could await, that’s assuming the Serb can build on that upset victory in the quarter-finals.
Azarenka, who plays Sloane Stephens in a rematch of last year’s controversial semi-final on Monday, is now a clear favourite to successfully retain the title for the third consecutive year; doing so would see her become the first three-peater since Martina Hingis in 1997-99.
And finally, Sharapova, who plays Dominika Cibulkova also on Monday, will also fancy her chances of winning Down Under for the first time since 2008.
Azarenka and Sharapova, in particular, must pay attention when they watch a replay of this match, as both of them continue to struggle against Williams at major tournaments, the Belarussian’s pair of victories in Doha and Cincinnati last year and the Russian’s victory at Wimbledon in 2004 aside.
Back to Ivanovic now, and even after defeating Samantha Stosur on Friday night and playing her best tennis since 2008, no one expected her to pull off the biggest upset of the tournament when faced against Serena Williams.
Entering their fourth round showdown, which many predicted Williams would win easily, the Serb was 0-4 against the American, including three straight-setters at the US Open in 2006, 2011 and 2012.
But as I pointed out in an article summarising her win over Stosur, and what she needed to do to challenge Williams, the key to her victory was to stay calm, show no fear and play her biggest weapon, the forehand, to great effect.
Williams was coming off the greatest season of her career, scooping eleven titles, including the French and US Opens, banking over $12 million in prize money and reclaiming the world number one ranking from Victoria Azarenka.
By contrast, Ivanovic was coming off a couple of poor seasons where titles and deep runs at major tournaments were few and far between. In addition, her ranking suffered severely and it was during this slump in which her world ranking plummeted to 65.
Just twelve months ago, I wrote an article here saying the Serb was not back to her best form, in the wake of a straight sets drubbing by Agnieszka Radwanska, which would ultimately set the tone for the poor season.
But flash forward to now and having claimed the scalp of the greatest player of the modern era, confidence is now sky high and that’s what she will take into Tuesday’s quarter-final against either Casey Dellacqua or rising Canadian Eugenie Bouchard, against whom the Serb was upset by at Wimbledon last year.
This will be only Ivanovic’s second Grand Slam quarter-final since winning the 2008 French Open; the other time came at the 2012 US Open when she was heavily defeated by Serena Williams after coasting through the early rounds.
She can now emulate what Sabine Lisicki did at Wimbledon last year, whereby the German, after defeating Samantha Stosur and Serena Williams back-to-back, carried on the momentum all the way into the final, before being beaten by Marion Bartoli.
Should she reach the semi-finals, now a strong possibility, Li Na, the beaten finalist in 2011 and 2013, would await. Get past her and she will be into her first Grand Slam final since 2008 and her first final above the International category since 2009.
And so, Serena Williams’ name will be four places above whoever’s name is eventually engraved on the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Trophy this year. As has already been mentioned, the American’s last Australian Open title came way back in 2010.
As for Samantha Stosur, beaten by Ivanovic on Friday night, she will be left to rue what could have possibly been. That luck could get worse if the Serb goes on to reach the final, which she is now possibly favoured to do.
For now, the stunning victory by Ivanovic over the current world number one is still sinking in, and will make headlines around the sporting globe in the days to come.
How far can Ivanovic can go? Can she win the title, let alone reach the final? Is she the biggest threat to the rest of the top seeds remaining? Will this mark a return to her best form? We wait to see.