The Sunday Telegraph interview

The Sunday Telegraph interview

Ana was featured in The Sunday Telegraph in Britain yesterday:

Ivanovic sees bright side
By Clive White, Sunday Telegraph
Last Updated: 11:17pm BST 02/06/2007

Some people don't know they're born, as we were reminded on the eve of this French Open when a thoroughly miserable-looking Serena Williams snapped at the press: "No dumb questions today." And then there are others who are grateful for everything the sport has given them. Ana Ivanovic is one such person, although in her case she didn't have to dodge bullets in a dangerous neighborhood as a child - just bombs in a war-torn city.

At the US Open last year, Nike cheekily borrowed the West Side Story number I Feel Pretty for an advertisement to promote their brand, featuring, of course, their No 1 client Maria Sharapova. But when it comes to having "such a pretty face, such a pretty smile", as well as the dark-haired beauty of a real Maria, the 19-year-old Ivanovic is your girl, as no doubt Leonard Bernstein would have agreed - and she's oh so charming, too.

"I think smiling's a curve that can straighten out a lot of things," said Ivanovic. "Obviously when you lose or something is not right you're not happy, but for me it doesn't take long to start smiling again. It's important that you see the bright side."

Not that Ivanovic has had much cause these past few weeks to do anything but look on the bright side - and by the way, she's never heard of Monty Python. Her recent win in the German Open was a significant step forward in her career and propelled her into the top 10 in the world for the first time. Yesterday she maintained that momentum with a win over Romania's Ioana Raluca Olaru that took her into the second week of Roland Garros. She and her fellow Serbs Jelena Jankovic - who has been matching her win for win, title for title recently - Novak Djokovic and Janko Tipsarevic have been inspiring the kind of questioning that a year or two ago was being repeatedly put to the Russians, which is: "Why are you so successful?" It's a question that not least our own Lawn Tennis Association should be interested in, because, as with the Russians, it certainly hasn't been achieved by throwing money at them - at least not their federation's money.

It's a wonder any of them graduated to world-class level at all, given the chaos that reigned in their country during the Balkans War eight years ago. Although the daily Nato raids on her native city of Belgrade proved restrictive - not to mention frightening - for her tennis development at the age of 11, it was the attitude of the rest of the world towards Serbia after the war that Ivanovic found most distressing.

"It was very upsetting, especially when I went abroad," she said. "People were very suspicious when they talked to you, they wouldn't really trust you. And we would have trouble getting visas and getting through customs. It drove me a little bit crazy. Maybe somewhere deep inside me it helped."

Now, thanks to wonderful ambassadors like Ivanovic - nothing's too much trouble for her, even when it comes to signing a fan's underpants - Serbia's reputation as the pariahs of the world is improving almost as rapidly as their tennis. Like Djokovic a year ago, Ivanovic might also have been tempted to switch allegiance to Great Britain if Swiss businessman Dan Holzmann hadn't already stepped in when her original sponsor pulled out and invested 500,000 Swiss francs (£200,000) in her development.

"Our tennis federation didn't really help us much at all," she said. "I think they did a little bit more for the men, but for the women they didn't really do anything - they almost abandoned us. It's really sad. They should appreciate it [having three players in the top 10] because who knows when it's going to happen again."

Facilities were so bad in Serbia that for a while she used to play on a court that was marked out in a disused swimming pool. The LTA would do well to remember that the next time one of their over-privileged youngsters complains about the condition of a court at their super-duper National Tennis Centre.

The chances of a country like Serbia having two women in the top 10 is probably about as remote as it was for Belgium, when they produced Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters. And like the Belgian press, the Serbs have not been slow to try to build up a rivalry and resentment between the two. "It's true we're not close friends, but then we come from different parts of Belgrade and also she used to go to America a lot, while I went to Switzerland. We never really hung out together and we're different generations anyway.

"It's a motivation for me because I can see her doing well and I want to do well, too. It's a great honour to be No 1 ranked player in your country, but I have a higher goal than that: I want to be No 1 in the world."

Although Ivanovic is three years younger than Jankovic and two places behind her in the world rankings at No 7, she has won three of their four meetings and two of those wins were this year. They are on opposite sides of the draw in Paris so there's a chance of an all-Serbian final, which would test the allegiance of fellow countrymen far more than any final between the Flemish-speaking Clijsters and French-speaking Henin did.

Ever since she arrived on the Tour, reaching the French Open quarter-finals as a 17-year-old, Ivanovic has been one to watch out for - which may explain why Sharapova's father Yuri has been regularly in attendance at her matches.

© Copyright of Telegraph Media Group Limited 2007

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