Ana is featured in the new issue of Jumeirah Magazine, which is published by an affiliate of her sponsor, Dubai Duty Free.
The following is a transcript of the interview:
Can you begin by telling us about your journey into tennis?
It all started just before my fifth birthday – I remember being at home in Belgrade and watching tennis on the TV. It was Monica Seles playing and I was fascinated by this new activity I was watching for the first time; it looked like so much fun. They showed a commercial for a tennis club and I wrote down the number and kept asking my mum to take me there. After about a month of me asking, I had my first tennis lesson and I instantly fell in love with the game. I remember my father handing me my first tennis racket for my fifth birthday. It is one of the happiest memories of my life.
When did your professional breakthrough happen?
In 2004, when I was 16 I had a very good season on the ITF circuit (one level below the WTA Tour) – I was undefeated. Then at the end of the season I qualified for the Zurich Open, which was my home tournament in many ways. I came back from 5-1 down against Golovin in the first round, then I lost 7-6, 7-6 to Venus Williams in the next round. I missed so many set points! I think it was 11 or something like that. Going so close against such a great champion as Venus gave me confidence for the future. Yeah, I think this tournament was kind of my breakthrough, and I played in my first Grand Slam at the Australian Open just a few months later.
Every tennis player develops his or her own style. What’s yours?
I have an aggressive game. I like to dominate, especially with my forehand, and step into the court. I like to dictate the points
Your serve has been described as ‘a very powerful weapon’. How would you describe it?
Thanks. For sure it can be a great weapon for me when it’s working. I am trying to improve my consistency on the serve and I think it’s got better.
Catching opponents off guard: what’s your trick?
I enjoy coming to the net – not many girls do it these days, so I guess it can be a surprise to the opponent. Drop shots can also catch an opponent off guard but overall I like to win points with power and accuracy.
Do you think your playing style relies a lot on physicality, or do emotions play a part too?
We’re girls, we’re emotional! For sure emotions play a part – both good and bad. When you are down, you can go into a zone of total determination and your emotions help you. On the other hand, nerves can play a part too. I think the guys are less emotional than the girls, both on and off the court.
Tennis is a demanding sport – various venues, differing climates and year-long participation. How do you stay on form?
It can be difficult, and the season is long, with not many chances to be at home, or visit your family. But together with my team I make a plan that is all about balance: between competing, training and resting. I am fortunate to work with some great professionals who give me a lot of support and assistance.
Regarding the tournament schedule and training, we always try to peak at the Grand Slams, so we choose events according to this goal. For example, I try not to play the week before a Grand Slam, so I can practise instead.
In the past, sport commentators have discussed your nerves on the court. How do you control these before and during a game?
Coming from Serbia I think emotions are in my blood. I admire so much Federer, Nadal and Novak Djokovic – they all do a great job of controlling their emotions and focusing on each point. This is something I am still working on and it’s true that I can improve in this area. At the same time, my emotions have helped me get through some tough matches through the years.
Where do you feel most confident – clay, grass or hard court?
I like all surfaces but clay would be my preference. That’s the surface I won the French Open on and I kind of grew up playing on clay.
Can you talk me through your wins and how it felt? Similarly, how long does it take you to recover from a tough loss?
My favourite thing about being a tennis player is competing on the court, so to win is what it’s all about – it makes all the hours of hard work worth it. Losing is part of the game too – even the best players in the world usually lose more than 10 matches a year. Some losses are more difficult to take than others: sometimes I do cry in the locker room after a defeat - it’s just a release of emotions. I try to learn something from each loss and to become a better player because of it. I actually learn more from losses than defeats, and I discuss each with my coach.
Of all the grand slams and tournaments, which is the most competitive for you and why?
The French Open. That’s the Grand Slam I won, and it’s also where I reached my first Grand Slam quarter-final and first Grand Slam Final. It will always be a very special place for me, and I love Paris as a city too.
Of the female players, who poses the biggest challenge for you?
Serena Williams is the best player in the world these days and she is definitely the toughest opponent. She hits the ball extremely hard and is a great athlete. Her serve is amazing too. It’s unbelievable what she is doing, even after turning 30.
What’s the best thing about participating in the Grand Slam series?
I love the excitement of the Grand Slams. The WTA events are great too, but there is nothing like a two-week Grand Slam event – it’s special because you have all of the world’s best players there and there are only four chances a year to play in them. I enjoy the rhythm you get into as well: you play your match then have a rest day, where you practise and do recovery work.
Are you ready for Wimbledon?
It’s not my focus at the moment because we have the French Open before then, but I always enjoy playing on grass and Wimbledon is such a special and unique event. Off the court, it’s the only tournament where we stay in houses instead of hotels and that makes a nice change – being able to cook for yourself and having your family around you. You can also walk to the courts, which is very convenient.
What are your thoughts on the Dubai tournament?
I always enjoy playing the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. It’s a great event and very well run. It’s obvious how much it means to the players, when you see how strong the field is each year. Considering that it’s all top players and it’s just one week long, I would say that it’s one of the toughest tournaments to win. That’s one of my goals for the future.
Who makes up your team behind the scenes?
I have my coaching staff: my coach, physio and hitting partner. I also work with a fitness trainer on a part-time basis – more aware from tournaments, when I am in a training block.
Then I have my management, who take care of my business affairs, advise me on many issues and help with my schedule off the court. They do a great job.
My family play an important role in my career too: they are for sure my biggest supporters. My parents will get up to watch my matches no matter what the time. I played in the Monterrey Open in Mexico earlier this year and they messaged me right after the match – they had been watching at 4am!
Your tennis match toolkit? And how sensitive are you to the equipment you use?
It’s very important that you can trust your equipment – it’s difficult enough to win matches without having to worry about that. Fortunately I have great sponsors in tennis – adidas and Yonex – who work very closely with me to make sure that I am comfortable with my rackets and clothing.
My coach helps me with stringing for new rackets: at all tournaments there is a stringing room, that looks almost like a factory, where guys string all the players’ rackets, using the string you give them and whatever tension you ask for.
If you weren’t playing tennis what would you be doing?
It’s very hard to say. I love psychology so maybe something related to this area, or maybe even languages, which I also love.
Does tennis get in the way of your private life?
I think I have everything in good balance. There is time for relationships even when you’re travelling – obviously trust is a big factor.
I am recognised often in some countries, especially when I am there for a tournament, and that sometimes means people asking for photos and autographs but that’s part of the job I enjoy – it’s an honour.
Off court, how do you wind down?
I like simple things like watching DVDs, listening to music and most of all, reading. I always have at least a couple of books with me. I read a lot of modern fiction. My favourite book of them all has to be The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. I also enjoy Paulo Coelho’s books.
My favourite thing to do during the off-season is to stay home and enjoy a nice dinner with my family. It may not sound very exciting but I don’t get to do it often, so it’s a real treat.