The Sunday Times - Ivanovic turns on the power

The Sunday Times - Ivanovic turns on the power

The 19-year-old Serb has the skill and strength to be a threat at Wimbledon after an impressive year in which she broke through at the top level. By Barry Flatman

TECHNICALITIES clearly intrigue Ana Ivanovic. She can readily inform you of her ability to propel a tennis ball at 122mph within 0.005 seconds of impact, forcing it to accelerate 1,000 times faster than a Formula One car. If required to elaborate, she can add that her service possesses sufficient velocity to compress a tennis ball to half its original circumference.

Impressive stuff for those entranced by the laws of physics, but for anybody content to deal simply in regular tennis achievement, the 19-year-old Serb served faster than any other woman when she made her full Wimbledon debut a year ago, is a former junior finalist, was named as the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour’s Most Improved Player and is an opponent very much to avoid at this year’s championships.

So much so that top-seeded Amélie Mauresmo views Ivanovic as the one player she most wants to miss in the earlier rounds of the tournament after high-profile defeats at the French Open last year and then in January at Sydney, just before the Frenchwoman’s Australian Open triumph.

The pair could clash again in Wimbledon’s last 16 and the thought certainly appeals to the statuesque right-hander from Belgrade. Ivanovic remembers that Parisian victory with more pride than any other and was most pleased with the fact that she coped with the pressure imparted by a partisan Roland Garros crowd, who were so intent on unsettling the interloper threatening their heroine that they insisted on perpetuating a Mexican wave when she attempted to serve for the match.

“Wimbledon would not be like that, I’m sure,” she says, smiling. “Last year it seemed a very proper tournament, very traditional and polite. It was an atmosphere I liked very much.”

Politeness and manners are something that rank highly for Ivanovic. It is no coincidence that the player she admires most, not just for his ability, but also his demeanour, is Roger Federer. She is in the fortunate position of being an occasional training partner of the revered Swiss, as they share the same physical conditioner, Pierre Paganini.

Her other idol was Monica Seles, whom she insists was the reason she first became attracted to the game. And she is insistent that, unlike in the case of many teenagers from eastern Europe, tennis was her idea, rather than that of her parents. “I remember I was five and I began to watch Monica Seles on television one afternoon,” she says. “In the break between games there was a commercial for a tennis school in Belgrade. I told my mother I wanted to play tennis and asked to be taken to that place. She probably did not believe it at first, but I kept asking her so many times that eventually she took me.”

Ivanovic’s potential was quickly recognised and before long offers were arriving for her to further her career at academies in the United States, but she opted against following the route taken first by Anna Kournikova and later Maria Sharapova. “My parents did not think it was a good idea because they had heard of other kids who went there and were unhappy,” she says. “They made a good decision and I did not take too much persuasion.”

Eventually, the paucity of Serbian facilities forced Ivanovic to leave home, but she found a base in Switzerland — the commute to Zurich was a manageable two hours. Her tennis flourished and her photogenic commercial potential was also recognised, which is not something that leaves her uncomfortable. “Sure, I enjoy the glamour side of things,” she says. “Sometimes it can be fun and it’s important to look nice. Every girl should try to look good because then they’ll feel good on court.”

The Sunday Times