The beginning of a tennis match can oftentimes look a whole lot different than the end.
It was Ivanovic who owned the start of the match, breaking Williams in the opening game with aggressive returns and stretched her lead with smart serve locations. The points were lightning quick, with only two points in the first five games making it past five shots. Developing a point was thrown out the window as both players employed hard-hitting, first-strike tennis.
Williams hit very hard early in the point but was missing way too much. With Ivanovic serving at 2-1, deuce, Williams had already collected eight forehand return errors. She made 15 forehand return errors in her semifinal victory over Caroline Wozniacki and also another 15 in her semifinal loss to her sister, Venus, in Montréal the previous week. It's been a weak spot in her game this summer.
And then in the blink of an eye everything changed.
Avoiding the double break energized Williams, and Ivanovic was left to ponder what could have been an incredible start. Williams then reeled off 10 straight points, which shook the confidence of her Serbian opponent and essentially won the American the match right there.
Williams won 11 of the last 13 games in posting a 6-4, 6-1 victory, winning 21 of the last 24 points of the match including the last seven straight. Things fell off a cliff for Ivanovic.
Williams hit 12 aces for the match, dominating the power game at the beginning of the point. In the deuce court, four aces went down the middle and three out wide, while in the ad court four went down the middle and just one out wide.
While Williams was stepping it up with her service games, Ivanovic's were getting worse. Serving down 504, and still right in the match, Ivanovic gifted the opening set with consecutive double faults to nail it shut. With Williams serving at 5-1 in the second set, she delivered consecutive aces to bring up match point. Ivanovic would finish with one ace and four double faults as Williams also hammered five return winners (three forehand / two backhand) for the match.
Overall, Williams had 55% of her serves unreturned, including 68% off her first serve and 39% off her second serve. Ivanovic, by comparison had only 27% unreturned for the match, with 29% off first serves and 25% off second serves. The difference alone in this important category gives Williams such an advantage in every match she plays.
Williams' return game is built around aggressive return position, hitting 50% of first serve returns standing inside the baseline and 100% when returning second serves in the final. This got the ball back very quickly to Ivanovic, rushing her of time to get prepared and the ability to get ahead in the point. Ivanovic was only able to take 13% of Williams' first serves standing inside the baseline and 64% of her second serves.
Once the limited amount of rallies began it really didn't matter for Williams where she hit it - as long as it was hard. Williams directed 52% of her shots through the ad court and 48% through the deuce court, and 84% of her shots landed deeper past the service line. This enabled Williams to stand up the court more, hitting 41% of her rally shots inside the baseline, compared to 35% for Ivanovic.
It was always going to be a gamble for Ivanovic to go toe-to-toe with first-strike tactics against Williams, who is definitely the best in the game at finishing a point before it starts. It worked well for a while until Williams ultimately found her range and her first title in Cincinnati.
Craig O'Shannessy (@BrainGameTennis) is the leading analyst for wtatennis.com throughout the 2014 season, utilizing SAP Data & Insights to uncover the patterns and percentages that dominate the game. Visit Craig's website at www.braingametennis.com for more expert strategy analysis.