Exclusive interview: Ana eyeing top 10 place

Exclusive interview: Ana eyeing top 10 place

“I am certainly not a surprise package anymore,” says Ana Ivanovic with a crafty smile as I ask her about the 2006 season, which for Ana began in Perth’s Hopman Cup exhibition on New Year’s Day and kicks into full swing in Sydney next week.

Ana surged from 97 to 16 in the Sony Ericsson WTA rankings during 2005, making her the highest riser into the world’s top 20. She also reached her first grand slam quarter-final at the French Open and caused one of the sensations of the year when she gutsily defeated third seed and home favourite Amelie Mauresmo in round three of the same event. If followers of women’s tennis were wondering who that good looking Serbian with the bombastic forehand was 12 months ago, they are very much aware of her credentials now.

“I made a very good progress in 2005 and consequently the expectations are much higher right now,” Ana says.

“It was a good learning curve for me and I am looking forward to the top quality game.

“My main aim for the next year is to reach the top 10 in the world, but my ambition does not stop there considering my motivation, my devotion to the game and a consistent work (ethic) which I am hoping will pay off in the near future, possibly in 2006 by winning a grand slam.”

Ana was admirably consistent last year, losing only three opening round matches. She excelled in the majors, debuting in all four and racking up nine victories – none of the 15 women currently above Ana in the rankings, not even either of the Williams sisters, enjoyed such a successful maiden grand slam year.

That said, over the last few years we have seen teenagers like Dinara Safina, Tatiana Golovin and Maria Kirilenko soar into the upper echelons of women’s tennis but fail to sustain such swift progress the following year. Ana is mindful of avoiding a similar fate. “I know that moving up in the rankings will not be easy,” she says.

“I need to make very good results in the biggest tournaments and beat the best players in the world. But I am quite confident that I will be able to reach the top 10 in 2006. What gives me confidence is my work. I am always more focused on hard work and not thinking too much about [ranking] points. When you work hard results will come and I am sure about that!”

The difficulties facing a player in Ana’s position are obvious. Golovin herself crystallised the challenges facing a teenager who has newly burst onto the scene. “You go from a position where nobody knows you to where everyone wants to beat you,” the Frenchwoman said.

As Ana recognises, the mystique of the unknown that she once brought to the court has long since gone, such are her rapid achievements and burgeoning reputation within the locker room. However, just as Ana’s rivals will be gunning for her more than ever this year, the trials and tribulations she underwent during 2005 provided Ana with solid foundations on which to build. “I matured a lot,” she says.

“Through being exposed to different players and a variety of styles of game I learned more about the significance of tactics. Even though I am still developing my game, improving my serve and volley, I am mentally much stronger and deal significantly better with the tricky, sometimes unpleasant situations.”

Several observers, not least television channel Eurosport’s team of tennis commentators, have noted Ana’s serene on-court temperament: seldom will Ana allow herself to get ruffled. What’s more, she is a more rounded figure off-court.

“I am more confident with the media and dealing with supporters,” says Ana, who has impressed journalists with her co-operative and courteous manner despite being a relative newcomer to the professional tennis circuit.

Ana says: “The last year a lot of things were not defined, I played a number of tournaments for the first time and my opponents were the top players who I never had a chance to play before.”

Mauresmo and the Russian trio of Svetlana Kuznetsova, Nadia Petrova and Vera Zvonareva were among Ana’s distinguished list of victims, but there was far more to those victories than the element of surprise.

“I am well aware of all my opponents, I carefully analyse their games, strategies, strengths and weaknesses and I am sure they do exactly the same,” says Ana.

“I am excited about the next year like any other, looking forward to new challenges. I expect an extremely tough year for all involved.”

By Gavin Versi