Australian Tennis Magazine interview

Australian Tennis Magazine interview

Ana is featured over five pages in the March issue of Australian Tennis Magazine. Vivienne Christie, editor of the publication, interviewed Ana at the adidas adilibria event in Melbourne in January and has written a delightful feature about the 19-year-old. By kind permission of Australian Tennis Magazine, it is reproduced below:

Australian Tennis Magazine | March 2007

More Than Meets the Eye

The first thing you notice on meeting Ana Ivanovic is her beauty. The next thing is that it’s much more than skin deep.

By Vivienne Christie

Seeing Ana Ivanovic in person for the first time, it’s hard to work out what’s most striking. Is it her flawless butterscotch colored skin, the traffic-stopping smile or the long legs that could rival any supermodel?

The smile wins. It doesn’t leave her face for a second of the hour-long session to promote her new adidas range. Not when a throng of photographers trip over each other to demand a variety of poses, nor when the various media assembled keep asking the same questions in countless different ways. She’s equally welcoming of the agents, the clients, and the odd hangers-on who shyly sidle up for an autograph, or simply to get a little closer to the rising Serbian star.

When Ivanovic can at last sit down for some promised one-on-one time with Australian Tennis Magazine, the smile doesn’t falter. If anything, it actually becomes warmer and a bit wider.

This is clearly a woman enjoying every moment of her life. And why wouldn’t she? Earning millions of dollars as she travels the world playing a game she loves is a life that most 19-year-olds can only dream about.

But scratch the surface further and you soon understand that Ivanovic’s appreciation for her extraordinary existence is about more than the adulation, the perks of her celebrity life, or even knowing that bigger things are still to come.

Every single one of Ivanovic’s achievements has been something to savor – even her start in the game. She first became interested as a four-year-old, when she saw Monica Seles, the woman who was to become her idol, competing on television. But she had to memorise the phone number of a local club, whose ad she had also seen on TV, before she could convince her parents how much she wanted to start playing tennis herself.

“It was a little bit before I was five (years old),” she explains. “And then for my fifth birthday my father bought me a small tennis racquet. So yeah, I memorised the number and I forced my parents to sign me up. A month later, I started playing tennis.”

As it turned out, that was the easy part. While her natural talent soon became apparent, developing it in Serbia was fraught with innumerable challenges – particularly when NATO started air strikes in her country in 1999. It meant that Ivanovic had to schedule her practice sessions for the early morning when it was less likely that bomb strikes would occur. And competing in events outside Serbia was out of the question.

“There were some really tough times,” she remembers. “I was just 12 (years old) and I wanted to start going to international (events), to travel. It was hard. We couldn’t get visas, we couldn’t leave the country. Then later, even now, we have trouble getting visas. We have to line up in embassies.”

But if the circumstances of Ivanovic’s junior development phase were far from ideal, the results she achieved from it were not. By the age of 16 she’d made her pro tennis debut on the ITF tour; the following year she was a finalist in the Wimbledon junior event and achieved a top 100 ranking on the WTA Tour.

Her breakthrough season occurred in 2005, when she won her first career title as a qualifier in Canberra. She went on to upset Amelie Mauresmo at the French Open, finishing the year as World No. 16. Last year Ivanovic cemented that impressive ranking with a win over Martina Hingis in the Tier 1 WTA event in Montreal.

Such achievements have given the Serbian ample opportunity to spend time with other high achievers in the game, but nobody was more special to meet than Seles. “I had the chance two years ago to actually meet her,” she explains, still glowing at the memory. “It was a very short meeting but still it was an unbelievable feeling.”

Now, Ivanovic happily relates, her new favorite player is Roger Federer. “I have had a chat with him a couple of times, and he is a great guy off the court,” she says.

In fact, the teenager is more likely to see Federer at home than on the tour, having chosen his Switzerland hometown of Basel as her base when she is not travelling on the WTA Tour. The other thing she shares in common with Federer is an inherent understanding of not just having role models, but in being one.

“I think it’s important because I know I started playing tennis because of Monica Seles,” Ivanovic explains. “Maybe some young girl will start playing because of us. It’s always nice to help them. Especially the country where I come from, it’s very hard. I want to help them in any way that I can to motivate them.”

Ivanovic is not the only high-profile player from her country providing inspiration to her younger fans, with the small Eastern European nation also boasting other young stars in Jelena Jankovic and Novak Djokovic – the latter who she knew before either of them took up the game as children.

“It’s unbelievable that we actually knew each other besides tennis and now we are playing on the tour,” she says of her ATP playing counterpart, with whom she has contested some Grand Slam mixed doubles events. “It’s amazing. He’s such a great guy. He has great potential.”

The best thing about the Serbian success, says Ivanovic, is the example it provides to other young players in her country. “It’s really been unbelievable,” she relates. “I remember when I was around 13 or 14, hardly anybody talked about tennis and now we have three players in the top 20 … We also have (Nenad) Zimonjic, who is an unbelievable doubles player and there are a couple of guys who are also in the top 50.

“It’s a great thing for our sport and also for young kids. It’s very important, no matter what sport you do, to play sport rather than just sit out on the street.”

There seems to be no danger of the young fans missing the impact Ivanovic is making. Her website, www.anaivanovic.com, is regularly the top player site visited throughout the year. Part of the site’s appeal is the many updates from Ana herself, who is enormously rewarded by the close personal link to her supporters.

“I think it’s nice to have the fans. For them it’s interesting to see what we are doing off the court. It’s nice for them to know that we are the same as them, that we probably do the same things. It’s nice to keep in touch with them.”

One place where her connection with fans is particularly pronounced is Australia, with Ivanovic returning that affection in spades. Her special bond with the country is borne partly through a now disbanded but ultimately fruitful relationship with Australian Fed Cup captain David Taylor, and work that she still undertakes with Sydney-based fitness trainer Scott Byrnes.

Her love for Australia is further cemented through strong family connections, with Ivanovic choosing to stay at the suburban home of her aunt, uncles and cousins in the weeks preceding and during the Australian Open. For the past two years she has arrived in Melbourne well before Christmas.

Next year she’d like to come even earlier. “I just love this country. This is my fifth year coming here and I always look forward to coming early, to come out and practice,” she enthuses. “I just enjoy it so much. The people are very friendly. It’s always a pleasant feeling.”

Ivanovic is not a player who will bemoan the travelling lifestyle that many of her tour-mates label the downside of tennis. “I love travelling and meeting people from other nations,” she says, adding that the chance to make a living doing something she loves means she doesn’t find much to complain about.

Part of that appreciation is the effort she makes in enjoying every city that she visits. With roller-coasters one of her favorite things in the world (“I just love them!” she giggles) she jumped at the chance to visit theme parks on the Gold Coast.

Her travels on the WTA Tour have also seen her taking in such sights as sumo wrestlers in Japan and the beaches of Indonesia and Miami. Ivanovic also has ample opportunity to indulge in her other favorite things, which include shopping, watching movies, reading (Dan Brown and Paulo Coehlo are her favorite authors) and listening to R& B music on her iPod.

The teenage star also loves the modeling shoots that have taken place at various locations throughout the world and good naturedly scoffs at suggestions they might become tiresome. “What girl doesn’t love to get dressed up and have their hair and make up done properly?” she rightly points out.

Ana’s number one priority, however, is to her game and she understands that she still has a lot of work to do before she reaches her full potential. While her serve and her forehand are clearly big weapons, Ivanovic believes that with so many dangerous opponents at every level of competition, what she most needs to achieve is consistency.

“I think overall I am trying to improve on every little aspect a bit,” she says. The win over Martina Hingis in Canada, says Ivanovic, “showed me that I can actually win against the top players and beat them and win the big events.”

Even so, the Serbian is modest about the goals she has set for 2007. “I think it’s most important to be healthy, because last year I had a couple of injuries,” she explains.“I think to reach the Masters would of course be my highest goal but still there is many things to improve before I reach that.

“I begin from working hard each day and trying to improve some aspects of my game and becoming more consistent.”

Above all, it seems, Ivanovic seems determined to remain positive. Careful not to place too much pressure on herself the teenager’s only aim for Australian Open 2007 was that she improve on the previous year’s performance when she lost second round to Samantha Stosur.

She achieved that modest indication but only narrowly, with a surprise third round exit to Vera Zvonareva. Ivanovic kept her composure but the fact she announced she would no longer be working with Taylor almost immediately afterwards was a sign of her bitter disappointment.

Still, the eternally upbeat Ivanovic bounced back quickly. Boosted by a barbecued seafood dinner at her extended family home in suburban Mentone, she moved on quickly to her next Tier 1 event in Tokyo where, playing without a coach for the first time in her career, she finished runner-up to Martina Hingis.

With that performance including a win over Jankovic, now a top ten player with her own huge ambitions, you can’t help feeling that a big Grand Slam run is just around the corner for Ivanovic, who is now working part of the time with adidas-employed coach Sven Groenefeld.

Not that you will find Ivanovic herself talking up the possibilities. It’s only when we wonder what Ana’s ultimate dream as a player would be that she allows herself to think big. In fact, so big that for the first time all afternoon, the naturally enthusiastic teenager needs to stop and really think about her answer.

“Well I’d like to be World No. 1… ” she eventually concedes, her voice trailing away as she ponders the possibilities.

“And then you probably would have won at least one Grand Slam title.” I can’t help but finish for her.

Ana delivers another brilliant smile. This time it’s a knowing one. “Of course,” she beams. “I was already thinking about that!”

Australian Tennis Magazine, Copyright © 2007