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Ivanovic stays in the now to win first major

After losses in two previous majors, she broke through with a straight-set victory.

PARIS - At last, Ana Ivanovic overcame her stage fright.

In two previous major finals, Ivanovic was so overwhelmed by the setting, so shaken by the stakes, that her focus fell apart and her shots went awry.

Not on this day.

Already assured of rising to No. 1 in the rankings for the first time, Ivanovic collected Grand Slam title No. 1 by beating Dinara Safina of Russia, 6-4, 6-3, yesterday in the French Open final.

Rather than erasing the memories of those lopsided losses in championship matches against Justine Henin at Roland Garros a year ago and against Maria Sharapova in the Australian Open in January, Ivanovic used the bitterness to help her.

"Many, many people ask me, 'Oh, you want to forget last year's final?' But I don't, because it was a great learning experience," said Ivanovic, a 20-year-old from Serbia.

She won only three games against Henin, then eight against Sharapova.

But in the months since, Ivanovic realized this: Part of her difficulty in those matches rested with either looking ahead - "Hey, maybe I can actually win this thing," she was thinking against Henin - or looking behind - failing to put out of her mind a few key points against Sharapova.

Ivanovic lost two consecutive matches on clay before coming to Paris, and she knew she had to change something. She credits her strength-and-conditioning coach, Scott Byrnes, with helping find what she called a "tool" to make sure she stays focused on the court.

And it couldn't be simpler: take the time to pause and breathe.

"My personality is I tend too much to think about what will be, and try to think too much in advance, which is definitely not too good," Ivanovic said. "So I found that breathing helps me to go back in a moment and just enjoy that very moment."

That's what carried her through the tightest of times against the 13th-seeded Safina, the younger sister of two-time major champion Marat Safin.

In the men's final today, No. 1-ranked Roger Federer will meet No. 2 Rafael Nadal in their third consecutive title match at Roland Garros. Nadal is going for a fourth French Open championship, and Federer hopes to complete a career Grand Slam.

Bjorn Borg has no doubt what it would mean if Federer finally manages to beat Nadal in the final.

"He definitely will be the greatest player ever to play the game," Borg said yesterday at Roland Garros. Although Borg preferred not to make a prediction, he expected a tight contest.

"A lot of people, they say no one can beat Nadal tomorrow, the way he's been playing," Borg said. "But I think Roger has a really, really good chance."

Borg plans to be present, watching in person as Nadal tries to equal the Swede's mark of four consecutive titles at Roland Garros. Last year, Borg sat in the front row during the Wimbledon final and watched Federer beat Nadal to equal Borg's mark of five consecutive titles at the All England Club.

Nadal is 10-6 against Federer - including 8-1 on clay and 3-0 in the French Open - making him the only active player to have faced the Swiss star more than four times and compiled a winning record against him.

Still, Federer insists he is confident about his chances today against the Spaniard.

"Of course I believe," he said. "I believe very strongly that this is my year."

Ivanovic was a point from taking a 5-1 lead in the first set when Safina showed some spark, using a running forehand winner and a swinging volley winner to get to break point. Ivanovic then dumped a forehand into the net, and 10 minutes later, when Safina smacked a backhand winner down the line, the score was 4-all.

"It was tough, because a lot of emotions build up inside," said Ivanovic, who was seeded No. 2 behind Sharapova in the French Open but will pass her in tomorrow's rankings. "All of a sudden, you're equal again. So to keep my composure at that point - it was huge for me."