Sport magazine cover feature

Sport magazine cover feature

Ana is on the cover of Sport, a free magazine in London with a readership of around one million. The following is an abridged version of the interview:

Growing up, tennis training meant playing in a drained-out swimming pool. But as the Serbian star tells Sport, it’s not about the facilities, but the determination to succeed

If you can name the top five ranked females on the Sony Ericsson WTA tour, Sport awards you five points. If you can spell them too, you get 10 points and a bag of pickled onion crisps. Even Sport’s own scholarly chief sub-editor would struggle to provide correct spellings of the women who make up the tennis world’s top 10 - a list featuring three ‘Ova’s’, two ‘Vic’s’ and a Chakvetadze. But there is one woman among them whose name could this year become as well known as that of Steffi Graf. Even if it does take twice as long to pronounce.

Ana Ivanovic chose to prepare herself for the intense heat of next week’s Australian Open by spending a week in London, in late December. And let’s face it, London and Melbourne are not the same at this time of year. Nonetheless, it’s not down to Sport to dictate how one of the best tennis players in the world gets ready for a Grand Slam tournament. Instead, it’s up to us to spend some time with her at a swish south London pad, complete with a fully stocked fridge and bar.

Not that we’d question her methods anyway. This is the girl whose modest aim at the start of 2007 was to claw her way into the world top 10. And here we are at the start of 2008, with Ana sitting pretty at number four and ready to become a superstar. Clearly then, there is some method behind her apparent madness.

Method and good manners, it seems. “Would you like a drink? And some food?” Ana asks, after Sport bursts through the door, red-nosed from the winter chill and struggling under the weight of our oversized duffel coat. “Why yes, that would be lovely,” we reply, blushing slightly. We think of getting her to phone for a pizza but a cup of tea will do nicely in the meantime.

So while Ana’s agent puts the kettle on, and the lady herself settles down to have her eyelashes curled by Sport’s make-up artiste - she works wonders on our bushy brows every day - we suddenly remember why we’re there, and get down to some proper work. After the tea and a selection of salted snacks arrive, naturally.

So, Ana, are you now fully prepared for the Australian summer awaiting you?
“I’ve been training at the National Tennis Centre in Roehampton where they have heated courts, so this morning it was 38 degrees! (Ah, that explains choosing to ‘acclimatise’ in chilly Blighty). But it is always so hot in Australia - last year they had to close the roof because of the heat. As a professional, you just have to adjust to different circumstances.”

Do you think that your experience from last year will help you to cope this time around?
“Well, the past couple of years I didn’t play as well as I had hoped in Australia, but this year I have more confidence. This is the highest I’ve ever been ranked too, so I am expecting myself to do better. And Australia is my favourite country - the first time I went there I fell in love with it. And there is a big Serbian community so we always have a lot of support. I even have family in Melbourne, so since I was a kid I always dreamed of going there.”

What advice would you give to the LTA, who struggle to produce many top British players?
“They have perfect facilities, great coaches -everything necessary for young people to succeed. But it has to come from the single person, talent is not the only thing needed. There is also a lot of hard work and determination, so you need the right person who has all that. And they need to be strong mentally. Many players practise very well, but once they are on the court competing, they get nervous and can’t handle the pressure.”

Do you suffer from nerves at all?
“For sure. Before every match I play I get nervous, but they’re good nerves. It shows that the game means something. If I’m not nervous I can’t perform that well. So I always want to have these positive nerves, and then once I am on court and I get into a match, they’re gone. Before a match I listen to music to take my mind off the pressure. I also try to speak to my coach and maybe even make some jokes before I go on court.”

We heard that you used to cry for hours if you lost a match. Should we have bought tissues, or have you found a way of handling defeat now?
“Sometimes I still cry, but it depends. I really don’t like to lose at anything I’m doing. Even if it’s just a card game or basketball with my brother. I just hate to lose. But you learn through your career that you’re going to have many losses and many victories. It’s important to learn from your losses and improve. Obviously, it’s never easy because I want to win all the time, but that’s not possible. You just have to try to win more than you lose.”

You’re always smiling, but there must be something that makes you angry. You can tell us.
“When I see that people are mean to others, or when there is envy - that’s something I really don’t like. I am happiest when I see that something I did made other people happy. So when I see the opposite, it makes me really angry.”

And we wouldn’t want that. Speaking of which, what’s your relationship like with the other ladies on the WTA tour?
“It’s very competitive, so there are a few girls that I have good relationships with but it’s hard to say they are my best friends. For example, Hantuchova, Kirilenko, Kuznetsova - they are all very nice and we always have a good laugh and a chat. We see each other all the time when we are travelling, so it’s nice to catch up and maybe go for dinner or a drink and just talk normal girl stuff. But it’s hard to say they are my best friends, really.”

How about your friendship with your fellow Serbian in the top 10 (and Jamie Murray’s ‘better half’), Jelena Jankovic?
“What I have with her is very different. We grew up in different parts of Belgrade and as part of different generations - she’s two years older than me. What we have in common is playing tennis, but as people we are completely different, so we don’t really hang out. In some ways it’s a pity, but that’s just the way it is. You don’t bond with everyone.”

Click here for an exclusive Q & A with Ana on the Sport website.

Images from this photoshoot will be posted here in due course. Click here to see a gallery of some of Ana's other magazine covers

All text copyright © Sport Magazine 2008