Feature: Ana and Novak (Part Two)

Feature: Ana and Novak (Part Two)

“I’m really sorry that we finished the Australian Open with a loss because I thought we could go on to the end,” says Novak Djokovic. “I think we had the quality to win the tournament.”

That Novak, who alongside Ana was making his debut in a Grand Slam mixed doubles event in Melbourne in January, harboured ambitions to win the tournament illustrates the supreme desire, competitiveness and self-belief that this 18-year-old Serbian possesses. He is equally positive about Ana’s singles credentials. “She has the potential to be one of the greatest players in women’s tennis,” he says.

Stylistically, Novak feels that he and Ana both have to work on similar aspects of their play. He says: “What she needs to do more in singles, like myself, is to go more to the net and to use the opportunities to finish the points with volleys. In men’s tennis there are a lot of players who are playing like this – serve and volley – but in women’s tennis not so many players go to the net to finish points. I think she has the particular game to do this. It’s just a matter of time for when she improves this.”

Ana herself has talked about working on this area of her game in recent months with her coach, Zoltan Kuharsky. Novak is familiar with the Hungarian, having discussed doubles tactics with him and Ana during the Australian Open. Indeed Ana and Novak adapted their strategy in their second round match, which they lost on a Super Tiebreak, against the heavyweight pairing of Daniel Nestor and Elena Likhovtseva: the teenagers regularly both stayed on the baseline, whereas in their first round match they had employed the more traditional one “one back, one forward” approach to doubles.

“I think her coach is very good,” says Novak. “I think he knows the right way to show her how to play in the future.”

Novak and Ana occasionally practice together during Grand Slam events and have grown up playing tennis with one another for the last fourteen years. He is very well placed to analyse the strengths in Ana’s game.

“Her forehand is really good,” he says. “For women’s tennis it’s one of the best. She has a really good return and she played really good volleys in the Australian Open [mixed doubles]. I hope that in the future we will play more Grand Slams together.”

Unsurprisingly, Ana is just as enthusiastic about playing alongside her friend Novak at future events. “I really think we can be a good mixed doubles team,” she says.

Looking ahead, Novak says: “Mixed doubles is played only in the Grand Slams. It’s useful because you can practice the serve, volleys and a lot of different things in the game. I’m happy that I had an opportunity to play with Ana [in Melbourne] because I think she’s one of the best players in women’s tennis.”

By Gavin Versi