Ana Ivanovic recovered in a hurry to avoid becoming the first top-seeded woman to lose in the first round at the U.S. Open, rallying past Vera Dushevina 6-1, 4-6, 6-4 on Tuesday.
Out of whack lately because of an injured right thumb, the world No. 1 was out of sorts for much of the match against a Russian ranked No. 57. Down 3-2 in the third set, the French Open champion suddenly found her confidence — and her winning strokes.
"I could feel some shots, lack of practice," Ivanovic said.
The 20-year-old Serbian star had played only two matches since Wimbledon in mid-July while her thumb healed. The injury forced Ivanovic to withdraw from the Olympics before they began and kept her from practicing until last week.
"Happy finally to be without the pain," she said.
The worst start ever for a No. 1 woman at the U.S. Open came in 1967 when Maria Bueno drew a first-round bye and then lost in the second round. The last top-seeded man to lose in the first round at Flushing Meadows was Stefan Edberg in 1990.
Scheduled to play later Tuesday were Serena and Venus Williams, and Roger Federer, aiming for his fifth straight U.S. Open title.
Sixth-seeded Dinara Safina of Russia, No. 9 Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland, No. 13 Agnes Szavay of Hungary and No. 16 Flavia Pennetta of Italy advanced.
On the men's side, No. 14 Ivo Karlovic of Croatia won, but No. 22 Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic lost to Sam Querrey of the United States 6-3, 6-1, 6-2.
Rafael Nadal was out early Tuesday, practicing minus his shirt. A day after his win, the top-seeded man worked in solitude — he hit before the crowds were allowed on the grounds.
Once fans started to fill Arthur Ashe Stadium, they saw a possible upset take shape.
Ahead 4-2 in the second set, Ivanovic rushed to a 40-15 lead and seemed on her way to a comfortable win. At deuce, she charged forward but put an easy overhand smash into the net — one of her 40 unforced errors.
After that, her problems really flared.
"I dropped my concentration," she said.
Soon, Ivanovic was tentative on backhands and failed to finish forehands. Gone was her signature fist pump after winning key points. Instead, she spent more and more time looking into her family box during breaks.
By the final set, Ivanovic was moving better, covering the court and pressuring Dushevina into misses. Even so, she made it tough on herself, double-faulting while trying for a match point.
Ivanovic certainly wasn't worn down from her recent hours on the court. Her travel time, however, took its toll — she left Beijing to see her doctor in Australia and then came to New York.
Despite winning her first Grand Slam championship this year, Ivanovic sensed her limited practice session would make it tough to take this title.
"I think at the moment it's a lot to ask for," she said.