Banking on experience

Ana Ivanovic celebrates her victory over Jelena Jankovic, which put her through to a second straight French Open final. (REUTERS)

Newly crowned world No1 Ana Ivanovic of Serbia will look to complete a perfect fortnight in Paris by winning her first Grand Slam title against Dinara Safina of Russia today in the French Open.

The 20-year-old Belgrade beauty made sure of dislodging the sport's other glamour girl, Maria Sharapova, atop the rankings by defeating fellow Serb Jelena Jankovic 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 in the semis.

She will start favourite against Safina, who will be playing in her first Grand Slam final at the age of 22, but knows that she cannot afford a bout of nerves like in last year's title match when she collapsed in straight sets 6-1, 6-2 to the recently retired Justine Henin.

Ivanovic, who also lost in straight sets to Sharapova in the Australian Open final in January, says she has no intentions of binning the memory of 12 months ago and insists she will be all the better for the experience.

"I don't want to forget it, because it was great learning experience," she said.

"I learned a lot from Justine and the emotions I was feeling going on the court. So I really hope I can work hard on it and play different this year.

"Obviously, I feel like a different player coming into this French Open. I gained a lot of experience from that final and the final in Australia, so I really hope I can step up this time and make one more step."

The 22-year-old Safina has had a remarkable run, grappling her way back from a set and 2-5 down and matchpoint against her in back-to-back games against Sharapova and Elena Dementieva.

She had no such worries against Svetlana Kuznetsova in the semi-finals winning 6-3, 6-2, and she says she is determined not to be overawed by the occasion.

"I will just take it as another match and just focus on myself and what I have to do," she said.

"I have to do the things that I know to do and try to avoid thinking as much as I can. This is the final, but it is like the first round. It's the same court and the same ball."

The two have played each other three times and Ivanovic is 2-1 ahead, but the Russian won the only time they have played on clay in Berlin three years ago.

Ivanovic is the more naturally gifted and she has been projected to rise to the top since first breaking on to the scene with a run to the quarter-finals here in 2005.

For Safina, it has been a harder slog living in the shadow of older brother Safin, a two-time Grand Slam winner.

The Muscovite struggled in Paris in her first four campaigns at Roland Garros, but she reached the last eight in 2006 and the fourth round last year.

This year she has improved her movement about the court and had the biggest win of her career in the German Open, one of the main buildup events to Paris.

 

Nadal blows Djokovic away

Rafael Nadal was on course for a fourrth successive French Open title when he beat third seed Novak Djokovic in straight sets yesterday.

The world No2 Spaniard, called the 'King of Clay', lived up to his reputation, winning a one-sided match against the in-form Serb, who had won the Australian Open earlier this year.

Nadal won 6-4, 6-2, 7-6 (3) in two hours 49 minutes and will meet the winner of the other semi-final between world No1 Roger Federer and local hope Gael Monfils.

The second seed is yet to drop a set at Roland Garros this year.

If Nadal wins the final tomorrow, he will become the first man to win four successive French Open titles after Bjorn Borg.

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