Bali tournament magazine feature

Bali tournament magazine feature

The following is a reproduction of a feature written by Barry Wood that appears in the Commonwealth Bank Tournament of Champions offical programme. The event begins in Bali on Thursday:

When Ana Ivanovic arrived in Bali a year ago she was already on a high, having just won her first title in two years in Linz. And then it got better, as she beat off all-comers to lift the title at the Commonwealth Bank Tournament of Champions.

She was a popular winner, as she played some of the best tennis of her career to overcome Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Kimiko Date-Krumm and Alisa Kleybanova, her victory contrasting so positively against her only previous visit to the paradise isle in 2006 when she fell to Olga Puchkova in her opening match.

No wonder she wanted to keep playing, but the season was at an end and she had no choice but to take a break and prepare for 2011. She then experienced a setback after suffering an injury while representing Serbia together with Novak Djokovic at the Hopman Cup, and that badly affected her preparation for the Australian Open. But she eventually got back on track and had yet another successful season. The highlights were a semi-final in Birmingham, another in Carlsbad, and quarter-finals at Indian Wells and Pattaya. Not too bad.

Along the way she re-engaged Scott Byrnes as her fitness trainer and took on Nigel Sears as her coach. Finding the right coach wasn’t easy. Ana knew that she didn’t want someone controlling her 24 hours a day, and she knew after so long on the tour how to play. So it was a case of looking for someone who could fine-tune her game, make one or two adjustments, and give her the personal space she needed. She eventually found that in Sears, whose daughter Kim is the long-time girlfriend of Andy Murray.

Sears had worked successfully with Amanda Coetzer and then Daniela Hantuchova while both were in the top 10, before he decided to spend more time at home and was given the job of Head of Women’s Tennis at the LTA. He couldn’t resist the invitation to work with Ana, however, and the partnership has been working well since they teamed up in July.

Byrnes, who worked together with Ana from July 2006 until July 2009 before, like Sears, opting to take some time off from the tennis circuit, also worked with several of the best women in the game - Maria Sharapova, Vera Zvonareva and Victoria Azarenka - before re-joining Ana’s team after Wimbledon this year.

Ana knows that having a good support team is essential in being a success, as she recently told Indonesian magazine The Yak.

“There are many factors, and actually talent is just one of them. Discipline, determination and drive are also very important. And it’s important to have supportive people around you, because you can’t achieve it on your own, even though tennis is an individual sport. You maybe need a bit of luck too. But the most important thing is to have self-belief and to never give up.”

Ana never did give up, even though she went through a difficult period after winning the 2008 French Open and rising to number one. She suffered injury and loss of form, and saw her ranking plunge to 63 before she battled her way back into the top 20. It is that belief in herself that first attracted her manager, Swiss businessman Dan Holzmann.

He first met Ana when she was 14 and was immediately impressed with her credentials. She was, not surprisingly, in need of financial assistance as she chased her goal of becoming a professional, and Holzmann invited Ana and her family to meet him in Basel.

“I asked Ana what she wanted from life,” he recalls from their first meeting. “She looked me in the eye and replied, 'I want to be number one in the world'. I was smitten at that moment. I took a quick decision that I would help her reach her goal.”

Ana thought she had messed things up when she played her first tournament after Holzmann has begun supporting her. She lost in the first round and didn’t come out of the changing room for four hours as she was afraid that he was going to end their agreement. “I played terribly,” said Ana. “I was worried he would leave, but then I quickly understood how much he believed in me, and that gave me extra confidence.”

Since those nervous early days, of course, his faith in her has been justified and she has paid back to him the $500,000 he invested in her. It has been a wonderful and rewarding relationship.

“It’s not a normal player-manager relationship,” explains Ana. “It’s more like a friend-friend relationship. We discuss things but we are also great friends and we have a lot of fun together. One of the most enjoyable things for me to do at a tournament is go out to dinner when Dan and the rest of the team is there.”

Her family have, of course, also provided great support for her, right from the days when her love for the sport was born. Times weren’t easy, and on her way to the French Open title she famously revealed how at one time she had to resort to practising in an abandoned swimming pool as there was nowhere else to play.

“I always receive unbelievable support from my family,” says Ana, who mother, Dragana, in particular is a familiar face on the WTA tour. “I owe them a lot. I enjoy tournaments the most when my whole family is there. The French Open and Wimbledon are extra special, because they always attend both.”

While some parents are notorious for ‘encouraging’ their daughter to play, aware of the vast riches success can bring, it was quite the opposite in the Ivanovic home. “Ana pushed us!” jokes Dragana. “We saw how much she loves tennis from an early age, so really we had no choice!”

And it wasn’t easy. Not only was it difficult to find a court, it was difficult even to get there! “Getting petrol was limited, so we couldn’t go to training by car every day,” she said. “But the solution was found. We borrowed two bicycles, so my father and I went to trainings and he carried my tennis bag on his back.”

Although it was tough, Ana never lost her enthusiasm for the game. In fact, she couldn’t get enough of it!

“Actually, when I was very young I don’t think I gave anything up. Tennis was always such a joy to play and they had to drag me off the court at the end of the coaching session! If I hadn’t been playing tennis so often I would probably have been doing some other sport. I was also quite academic and I enjoyed school.

“I think I had a great balance between tennis, school work and spending time with my family and friends. I had a very happy childhood and I am grateful to my parents for that.

“The ‘sacrifice’ was more when I was a teenager. I think for me the hardest thing was spending so much time away from my family from the age of about 12, when I started playing junior tournaments overseas. Fortunately my mum travelled with me, but I really missed my father and brother.”

The struggle of those early years have long since been overcome, and despite her huge success the Smiling Serb has kept her feet firmly on the ground to make her one of the most popular players on tour with not only her fellow players, but tournament organisers and the media. Absolutely everyone likes Ana, a tribute both to her and all the people around her.
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Won the French Open in 2008 and was ranked world number one for 12 weeks. Also won Bali and Linz in 2010, Indian Wells and Linz in 2008, Berlin, Los Angeles and Luxembourg in 2007, Montreal in 2006 and Canberra in 2005. Runner-up at Indian Wells in 2009, the Australian Open in 2008 and at the French Open and Tokyo in 2007.

2011 HIGHLIGHTS: Reached semi-finals at Birmingham and Carlsbad, and quarter-finals at Indian Wells and Pattaya.