Feature: lengthy matches
Following the epic four hour, 44-minute duel between Francesca Schiavone and Svetlana Kuznetsova in the fourth round of the Australian Open last month - the longest women's match in Grand Slam history - Ana was asked for her thoughts about lengthy matches. Which long three setters in her own career stand out, and how does she cope mentally during a tense battle?
"The Australian Open was full of thrilling matches on the women’s side, none more so than the Francesca Schiavone-Svetlana Kuznetsova epic, which lasted almost five hours. It was definitely one of those matches where there wasn’t a loser, and it was a great advertisement for women’s tennis, demonstrating how tough our matches can be.
"My own match against Ekaterina Makarova was also very long, and interestingly enough two of my longest matches have come against Kuznetsova and Schiavone.
"I’ve had quite a few long matches against Kuznetsova in particular, most notably at the Sony Ericsson Championships in Madrid in 2007, when I won 7-5 in the third. During a long match like that there are always going to be momentum swings. I remember I was up 6-1, 3-0 and I think I had two or three break points for 4-0, but she came back and levelled the match.
"It is very hard emotionally when you’re in that situation, but you have to put yourself in the position of thinking, 'hey, she won five games in a row, I can do the same thing.'"
"Although momentum is an important factor, the scoring system lends itself very well for comebacks because, unlike in other sports, you can’t just run down the clock, you have to push forward for victory.
"I heard a top coach say that winning the first set in a best-of-three set match means that you are only 25 per cent of the way there, but to be honest I disagree with that. Logically, you are halfway there, and in some circumstances even more: if you won a really close first set, often the second set comes much easier.
"In a long match you often look at your opponent during the change of ends, to see what her body language is like and how she is feeling physically. When it gets to something like 6-6 in the final set you are almost numb to the score – you are just playing each point as it comes. The crowd can definitely play a part too, because you are searching for energy wherever you can find it.
"To win a long match is extra special. It’s a feeling of relief almost as much as much pleasure. Actually in that moment that it ends, you’re not aware of everything that is going on. There is so much exhaustion – more mental than physical actually.
"Apparently Andy Murray lost track of the score during his match against David Ferrer in Melbourne. It may surprise some people, but it’s quite easy for this to happen and in fact it’s a positive sign: it shows that you are so into the match, and that you are focusing on your tactics instead of the scoreboard."