Ivanovic plays it safe as she heads towards the top 10
By Mark Hodgkinson
Last Updated: 1:41am GMT 28/12/2006
How many teenage girls from Serbia would bother to learn the rules of cricket? Ana Ivanovic has. Ivanovic is like that. While training in Australia ahead of the new season, she has been surfing and snorkelling off the coast, and following the Ashes. Life must feel like surf and sun and smiles for Ivanovic at the moment.
But it has not always been like that for Ivanovic, who seems poised to break into the top 10 during 2007 and become one of the sport's headline names. The 19-year-old from Belgrade has strong childhood memories of her home city being bombed during the war in the Balkans, of having to fit her tennis practice in between the Nato raids, of the sirens that signalled when she could and could not play, and of generally being terrified.
When Nato bombed Belgrade in 1999, Ivanovic was just 11. "I remember soon after the bombing started, I think it was the morning after the first night of bombs," she said. "I was on the practice court and someone came up to us to say that it was too dangerous to be out there. My coach said, 'OK, we'll just finish this basket of balls'. But we realised that we had to stop right away. It was too dangerous. I was only able to practise in the morning as that was the safest time, when you thought that they weren't going to drop any bombs. You couldn't practise in the afternoons as it was too dangerous then.
"The sirens would start around lunchtime, and then the planes would be over the city for most of the afternoon and the night. And then the danger would only go away at about six in the morning. So, when the all-clear siren went, we could leave the house to play."
Ivanovic recalled the fear she felt then. "It was scary, but I got used to it. My parents tried to be protective, and stop me from seeing everything that was going on. But you could see on the news what was happening. And I soon realised that they weren't bombing everything. They were just bombing military targets. But we used to come into practice the next morning and talk about the bombs the night before. We would say, 'Did you see the news? Did you see what happened?' It was a difficult time."
Ivanovic, the world No 14, and with the photogenic looks you need in women's tennis these days if your agent is going to build you a brand, was inspired to play tennis by another Serbian, Monica Seles.
The story goes that Ivanovic, then aged five, was watching Seles play on television and, during a commercial break, an advert was shown for a local tennis club.
Remarkably, Ivanovic memorised the long number and when her mother returned to the room, pleaded to be allowed to visit the club. "Whenever I tell people that story, about how I first got into tennis, it gives me goose-bumps," Ivanovic said.
Fourteen years after memorising that number, Ivanovic appeared in a television commercial of her own. Along with Daniela Hantuchova, she was featured in an advert for a mobile phone company which also sponsors the women's tour, Sony Ericsson, with the pair playing an impromptu game of tennis while jumping across rooftops.
Ivanovic appreciates the glamorous side of tennis, "when you have people doing your hair and doing your make-up". She promotes herself well through her website, and is not shy with the cameras. But she would hate anyone to think that success has gone to her head.
Manners matter to Ivanovic. And that is why she looks up to Roger Federer. Not just because of his tennis, but because "he's a lovely person". "Despite everything that he has done, he hasn't changed. I admire people who don't change," she said. "I try to be the same person that I've always been. Those people who change are just insecure in themselves, and aren't entirely happy with themselves. It's about personality. If you're truly happy with yourself, then you don't change."
No one could accuse Ivanovic of lacking personality or of not being happy with herself. She is well-adjusted, personable and intelligent. Especially when judged against some of the one-dimensional tennis automatons out there.