Feature: Ana and Novak (Part One)

Feature: Ana and Novak (Part One)

In 1991 two four-year-old children met at a ski resort in the former Yugoslavia. Neither had held a racket before, much less set foot on a tennis court. Fourteen years later they made their Grand Slam mixed doubles debut together and both are currently ranked in the world’s top 75. Ana and Novak Djokovic have remained close friends to this day.

“It’s unbelievable,” says Ana with a huge smile. “We were both four-years old when we met, we didn’t play tennis. Then a few years later we are playing together at the Australian Open! It’s nice to have someone you know well to grow up with in tennis.”

Novak couldn’t agree more. He says: “We basically started playing tennis at the same time. We played a lot of tournaments together in juniors in Serbia. We sometimes practice together in Belgrade. It’s always a pleasure for me. It’s great.”

Anyone who witnessed Ana and Novak make their mixed doubles debut together at the Hopman Cup in Perth during the first week of the year, or compete at the Australian Open a fortnight later, would doubtless have sensed the friendship that the two share. “I really enjoy playing with her because she’s just a great girl,” says Novak, whose father went to high school with Ana’s father, Miroslav, and stayed friends with him in adulthood. It was at a mountaintop restaurant, owned by the Djokovic family, that Ana and Novak's first meeting took place.

“We know each other pretty well. We have fun. It’s very important, especially in mixed doubles but also in singles, when you’re playing in big matches and it’s very tight, to release the pressure. Sometimes a smile is very good to relax. When you play relaxed you play much better.”

Indeed the pair would flash smiles at each other during their matches in Australia and Novak even did a humorous dance after sealing a crucial game during their first round match in Melbourne. What’s more, the couple could sometimes be seen laughing to each other during changes of ends.

“If everything is going well and we don’t need things to change, we want to play the same,” says Ana. “So sometimes we make jokes. Because it’s fun and when we relax we play much better.”

Novak concurs, but adds that it’s not always about clowning around. “When we’re in a match we are pretty focused but at the same time we try and be as relaxed as we can because of the pressure,” he says. “We try to enjoy it but we are focussed and we want to win."

Like many other doubles pairings, Ana and Novak slap hands after almost every point, even if it was lost. Novak explains: “I think the connection between two doubles players is important, especially a girl and a boy when playing mixed doubles. It’s important to support your partner all the time. When there are the difficult points when you’re losing, when it’s really big pressure, it’s nice to see that your partner is supporting you all the time. That’s why we do it.”

By Gavin Versi

Next week: We talk to Novak about Ana’s style of play and what the future holds for them as a mixed doubles team.