Patience pays off for Ana Ivanovic

Martin Caparrotta
By Martin Caparrotta

Photo: UNICEF Serbia

A war-ravaged Serbia didn’t exactly provide ideal conditions for nurturing young tennis talent in the 1990s, but that didn’t prevent Ana Ivanovic from making it to the pinnacle of women’s tennis – a long journey fuelled by her unconditional love for the game.

Due to a lack of better facilities in her hometown of Belgrade, a young Ivanovic practiced her strokes in an empty Olympic swimming pool where the walls were only 18 inches from the sidelines.

“The pool was very expensive to keep it warm during the winter, and there was not many people using it,” Ivanovic said.

“So they emptied the swimming pool, and they put carpet inside, and they placed two tennis courts, and that’s where I grew up practising.”

She was given a tennis racquet for her fifth birthday and immediately fell in love with the game. But growing up in a country at war didn’t make life easy for her. In 1999 she was forced train in the mornings to avoid the NATO bombings.

“It was tough times. The nineties were not the best years. In 1999, we had a bombing. It was hard. That was just when I started practicing much more and for first time I got a better coach so that was exciting times.”

And the 21-year-old’s passion for success in the sport came from watching the achievements of Serbian former World number one, Monica Seles.

“I started playing tennis because of Monica Seles – she was the woman I always looked up to, and I always wanted to achieve what she did.”

She made her professional debut aged 15, and at her first tournament, Ivanovic spent four hours crying in a locker room after a defeat, thinking that her agent, Dan Holzmann – who had come to watch her for the first time – was going to drop her. He didn’t – and is still her agent today.

2008 has been a phenomenal year for the 21-year-old. She won her first Grand Slam, beating Dinara Safina at the French Open, and if the title itself wasn’t enough, she also rose to number one in the world rankings.

Since her success in Paris, early defeats at both Wimbledon and the US Open made the second half of 2008 less memorable for young starlet, but she is feeling more positive of late.

“The losses I had were very disappointing. They were hard lessons – but now I realise all I needed was a little bit more patience with myself to work my back into the game and competing, so I’ve been enjoying the last couple of weeks much more.”

Ivanovic is currently training in Spain ahead of the Australian Open which takes place in January.

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