Feature: Interview with Dragana (Part One)

Feature: Interview with Dragana (Part One)

Over the next three weeks we will be chatting with Ana's mother, Dragana, about Ana's development as a tennis player, life on the tennis circuit and what Ana is really like.

They say that if you truly want to get to know a person you must first meet their parents. Spending just 20 minutes with Dragana Ivanovic is enough to understand how Ana has become such a charming, polite and engaging young woman.

Dragana was 19-years-old when she met her husband, Miroslav, through mutual friends. They married seven years later and in 1987, when Dragana was 26, Ana was born.

As followers of Ana know well, five years later the young Ana saw a television commercial for a tennis centre in Belgrade and was immediately drawn to the sport. For about a month she pestered her mother to take her to the centre for lessons. "I was thinking, 'It's a childish wish, let's fulfil this wish'," says Dragana, a tall, attractive, amiable lady.

"But I didn't do it immediately, she had to ask me many times. Then I said, 'Okay'. She was five at the time and we were thinking about introducing her to some kind of hobbies.

"Then she came up with this. We thought, 'That's not bad'. Kids in Serbia start going to school at age seven, so we thought, 'She's five, let's let her play tennis from time to time but then she's going to school soon and probably it will be over' – you know how kids don't know what they want.

"But Ana was different. She never stopped loving it. She never said, 'I'm bored, I don't feel like practising'. Never. So she involved us."

Indeed Dragana and Miroslav are the very antithesis of pushy tennis parents. They are careful to stay behind the scenes and maintain a low profile; Dragana was actually a little reluctant to give this interview. What's more, before Ana took up the sport, no one in the Ivanovic family played tennis. "It was a big surprise," says Dragana.

"My husband played basketball and my brother played football, so we were familiar with sport, we were watching it a lot on TV, including sometimes tennis, but not much. I didn't know much about tennis at all!

"It just happened. I think some people can feel it when they are very young. I think that's luck, when someone is so young and they know what they like.

"We didn't plan this. We just realised that Ana is very much attracted by tennis. She's talented, she likes it. We decided just to support her. It came automatically."

When the Ivanovic family realised just how gifted a tennis player Ana was, important discussions had to take place. Should they risk their daughter missing out on a mainstream education and, to put it bluntly, a regular adolescence, in order to try and make it as a professional?

"That talk came for the first time when Ana got an offer for sponsorship from an agency in Switzerland when she was 13," says Dragana.

"She was selected as a talented player and they offered a contract to us. They would finance the early stages of her career, the coach, travel expenses, everything. It was a contract, which we would have to sign. It was a serious thing.

"The whole family sat and talked. First of all Ana had to say whether she accepted it or not. We made her understand that that kind of contract is a commitment. We said, 'Listen, you have opportunities. You have to decide. Maybe you are young and you are not sure but you have to be honest to yourself and ask yourself, "Do you really like it? Do you really want to try?"' She was like, 'Of course!' She was 100%. We thought she would say that of course but we had to ask.

"We said, 'Now that you say so, from now on we are behind you, we support you, but you have to be responsible in a way that you can do the best you can.' Ana is like this, she is a very responsible person. She was when she was very young."

At the time Dragana was a customs lawyer and, naturally, had ambitions to further her career. "But when you have children some other priorities are coming," says Dragana.

By Gavin Versi

Next week: We talk to Dragana about life on the tennis circuit.