- On Court
- About Ana
- Club Ana
Ana was interviewed by tennis writer Barry Wood for a feature that is published in the Commonwealth Bank Tournament of Champions programme in Bali this week.
By kind courtesy of Barry Wood and the tournament organizers, the following is a reproduction of the feature:
ANA IVANOVIC - THE GIRL WITH THE SUNSHINE SMILE
Ana Ivanovic is known arguably as much for her always-present smile as the tennis that has taken her to a Grand Slam title and number one in the world. Add one of the most down-to-earth personalities and stylish dressers on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour, and you have the perfect package. There is no-one in the locker room that doesn’t like Ana.
Celebrating her 23rd birthday on the day following the Commonwealth Bank Tournament of Champions, the universally popular Serb has retained the same personality that was there when she first burst upon the scene in Zurich back in 2004. It was then that at 16-years old and ranked 156, she qualified and upset world number 29 Tatiana Golovin by fighting back from 1-5 in the final set, saving match points, and then stretched Venus Williams to the limit, holding five set points in the opening set and three in the second before conceding in two tiebreaks. Eyebrows were raised and a star was born.
Very few current players have experienced winning a Grand Slam final. Take away Serena and Venus, Kim and Justine, and the list is very short indeed. So, what is it like? How do you prepare for the match you have been waiting for all your life? What does it feel like to win? And how do you celebrate? Ana knows.
"It’s definitely a special feeling and the greatest experience you can have in tennis, in my opinion," said the 2008 French Open champion. "My routine before the matches (plural, because she also reached the final of the Australian Open the same year, and the French Open in 2007) was the same as for any other match – it’s important not to change anything just because of the occasion. I practised a couple of hours before the match, had a very light meal and then warmed up maybe 20 minutes before the match started. Walking onto the court I felt nervous, but that’s a good thing, because it shows how much you care. The nerves are related to the worry that you might not do yourself justice.
“After I won the French Open I went out for a big dinner with my team and some friends. There were about 25 or 30 of us, I think. My coaches had made a bet that they would wear my dress and run around the Arc de Triomphe if I won, and I held them to it! So after dinner we all went there, but the police stopped them before they could run. Still, we got some embarrassing photos of them wearing my dresses!
“The next day I left for Belgrade and there was a public celebration in front of the parliament building and I also met the President, whom I know a little bit. It was obviously an amazing experience, something I will never forget.”
After Ana became more and more successful, surely it must have been difficult for her to still be around the friends she had before. Not so.
“I am still friends with quite a few people I grew up with, and that’s important to me,” she said. “But it is tough to stay in touch considering all the travel and different time zones. Skype comes in useful! When I am with my friends we don’t really talk about tennis. I am as interested in their lives as they are in mine, and we talk about normal stuff like shopping, relationships, travelling, this kind of thing. It’s actually rare that we would talk about tennis, which is good, because I like to get away from it.”
Talking of relationships, it must be difficult for a star such as Ana to have a private life, and to be sure that someone isn’t in her company for the reflected glory or to exploit the relationship. But it’s a situation she believes she can handle.
“I think that when you trust someone, you can keep the most important things private. But for sure you lose a lot of privacy in general, for example you are photographed in a restaurant, or even walking down the street. I don’t think anyone enjoys that. (And) it takes time to get to know someone and to trust them.”
Something else that has sometimes been difficult to handle is her slump in form after she had won in Paris. She was injured, and it has been far from easy to get back to where she was. Indeed, it is still a work in progress, with two steps forward and one step back. That must be a huge disappointment after she had seemed set for a long time at the very pinnacle of the game.
“There have been many disappointing moments,” she admits. “One of the worst was losing in the first round of the US Open last year. It was the first time I had lost in the first round of a Grand Slam, and also I had a match point. In my career, usually I was the one saving match points and going on to win. It was a very unpleasant experience, not using my opportunity. It took me a while to get over that one.”
Has she ever doubted that she would be able to get back again?
“I did have doubts, because even though I have a lot of belief in myself, you need to prove it to yourself on the court. I feel like I did that especially well in Rome, beating Azarenka, Dementieva and Petrova three days in a row. During the toughest moments my team always believed in me and that was important. They believed in me maybe even more than I believed in myself. They didn’t have any doubts, and that gave me confidence. But I’m still not there yet. It’s a gradual process and I need to achieve a lot more consistency to get back to the top.”
Ana isn’t all about Ana. Many players will tell you they have to focus exclusively on number one - that means themselves rather than the ranking - if they want to get to the top. But as well as dedicating herself to her career Ana spends time working on behalf of UNICEF. When she has the opportunity she visits schools in Serbia where bullying and abuse is a problem, and she tries to guide and lead the kids in the right direction.
“It’s a great honour to do some work on behalf of UNICEF and I take my role as an ambassador very seriously,” she said. “I love kids and it’s a cause that I care about a lot. Whenever I visit Belgrade I try to find the time to visit a school or take part in some event for UNICEF, which always involves meeting kids and talking to them about their school life and wellbeing. UNICEF is my main focus, but I make some other donations too. When I am at a tournament and I have to take part in promotional activities, my favourite thing to do is to hit with kids.”
That’s the giving side of being who and what she is - a top tennis professional. With that come rewards - the acclaim, the five-star hotels and first class travel. There are huge financial benefits too of course, and although Ana doesn’t throw her money around irresponsibly she does like to spend now and again. Her most satisfying purchase?
“I would have to say my holiday home in Mallorca,” she said. “In the future I will probably buy myself a nice car, but I haven’t decided which yet. I already have a Porsche Cayenne, which the Stuttgart tournament kindly gave me.”
And when you are in Ana’s position you often meet others who are at the top of their field too. They might be outside of tennis, outside of sport altogether. But the person Ana was most thrilled to meet was much closer to home.
“Growing up my biggest hero was Monica Seles, and I was so thrilled to meet her for the first time - I did so in Toronto about five or six years ago and we’ve stayed in touch. Regarding whom I would like to meet now, maybe Angelina Jolie? I’m not sure.”
While she could no doubt make enough money as a tennis player to never have to work again when she retires, that is not the way Ana thinks. Could she be thinking of eventually moving on to a modeling career perhaps? No. Believe it or not, after the glamour of travelling the globe and being treated everywhere she goes as the star that she is, she has humble ambitions. While most students can’t wait to get away from the classroom or lecture hall, Ana wants to head in the opposite direction.
“I will probably do more studying and I think I would enjoy a career in business,” she said. “But I’m sure tennis will always play some part in my life as well, even if it will no longer be the focus.”
First, though, there is the job in hand, trying to win the Commonwealth Bank Tournament of Champions. Ana was thrilled at the thought of returning to one of her favourite tournaments.
“I’m very much looking forward to going to Bali,” she said. “It’s probably the most beautiful place I have visited on the Tour. It was quite a long time ago that I visited, I was only 18 at the time. It’s the perfect setting to finish the season and this year the field is very strong. I’m sure it’s going to be a great event and it’s hard to think of a better destination.”