Feature: Interview with Dragana (Part Two)

Feature: Interview with Dragana (Part Two)

Last week we spoke to Ana’s mother, Dragana, about Ana’s development as a tennis player. This week we talk to her about what life on the Tour is really like.

Six years ago, if you had told Dragana Ivanovic that she would be spending her days following the professional women’s tennis circuit, she would never have believed it. At the time she was working as a lawyer; now she travels with Ana to every event.

“I think it’s a very specific world,” says Dragana when asked to describe the tennis tour. “It’s very different from normal life. It’s very demanding, and the girls that are on the tour have to sacrifice a lot. They need to love tennis to stay there for years.

“But at the same time they travel around the world, see beautiful places, different cultures. They are young and they are having an extraordinary profession. That is great!”

Being away from their families and friends, living out of a suitcase and forsaking the normal activities that 18-year-olds enjoy are some of the things that players like Ana must endure; Dragana has had to make sacrifices of her own.

She says: “The toughest thing for me is being away from my son and my husband. Ana started travelling around the world when she was 13. We said, ‘We cannot let her travel alone so young.’

“But I talk to my son and my husband every day,” adds Dragana with a broad smile. “The phone bill is very high!”

As one would expect, the Ivanovic’s enjoyment of tournaments is largely defined by whether or not the whole family is present. All four of them – Ana, Dragana, father Miroslav and brother Milos – were in Melbourne for the Australian Open and expect to be together during the French Open and Wimbledon.

If it were up to him, 14-year-old Milos would attend every tournament.

Dragana says: “Milos loves to come. He’s the biggest fan of Ana. He really enjoys it. For him it’s not a problem if he is at the club the whole day waiting for the match. He makes Ana laugh, he makes her relaxed. He wants to support her and he is very proud of her.

“But of course he also has his life. He has an important time now, he has to try for the high school. He also plays basketball, so he has to practice and play in tournaments. Of course we enjoy tournaments more when the family is here. It’s a completely different feeling.”

Unsurprisingly, given her academic background, Dragana has been keen to find out as much as she can about the tennis tour during the years she has spent accompanying Ana to tournaments. “I have learnt a lot,” she says.

“Not just about tennis technically but about the whole system. How it works. What is necessary for younger persons to have a chance: you can do everything but sometimes it doesn’t happen. But I can see that there are some basic rules that you have to follow.

“I have learned a lot – also about management, media and marketing. It’s like a new university for me!

“Ana has a great management behind her. Dan Holzmann, her manager, is very determined and very enthusiastic. We communicate a lot.”

As Dragana confessed, she was by no means a tennis expert before her daughter took up the game, but the hours spent watching her daughter in action have allowed her to develop her knowledge of the sport. It hasn’t been intentional: she simply loves watching Ana play tennis.

Dragana says: “When Ana is practising I am almost always next to the court. I like to see her progress, I like to see her relationship with the coach. I enjoy watching her.”

Though Dragana spends as much time following Ana’s on-court progress as possible, once practice is over she and Ana do not hang around the venues like some players and their entourages.

“We don’t spend too much time sitting around at the clubs,” says Dragana. “There are individual rhythms, matches, practice, different programs, different timings. We are here officially and then we go.”

Consequently, Dragana doesn’t spend too much time with the parents of other tennis players. In fact, not many parents are particularly close to one another on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour. When one considers that their daughters do battle against each other on a daily basis, this is easy to understand.

But that is not to say that there is enmity: they simply do not fraternise very often. “There is no possibility, and no wish to develop this,” says Dragana, who adds that she does have a number of friends in tennis with whom she sometimes goes out for coffee.

Back at the hotel, Dragana occupies her free time by partaking in some of the same activities that Ana herself so enjoys: watching DVDs and reading, for example.

Dragana’s English is excellent, but she says that she sometimes spends time trying to improve it. Given how much time she and Ana spend in Switzerland, Dragana has recently been studying German.

“I cannot say I get bored,” she says, “Ana is a very busy girl and I am organising our travelling, booking hotels et cetera, and working on Ana's schedule. There is also work for me.”

Ana is very grateful for her mother’s hard work. “It is great that my mother travels with me.” Ana says.

“We are a very close family. Me and my mum have an extremely good relationship and understanding. She is more like a friend, mentor, and shoulder to cry on when I need it. She is the perfect companion!”

By Gavin Versi

Next week: In the final part of our interview, we talk to Dragana about her role on match day and what Ana is like in private.