New Iva article
From the Sunday (Irish) Independent:
Iva The Diva now ready to deal with success
Tommy Conlon talks to Iva Majoli
THIS is how it works some times. The Williams sisters are coming to Dublin this week, so are Lindsay Davenport, Anna Kournikova, Monica Seles and a scatter of Europeans. Can they get us some of the big names for a phone interview? The organisers come back with Davenport or Seles - one of them will do it. Days pass. Neither of them can (or will) do it. Will Iva Majoli do instead? Mmmm. Iva Majoli.
It's the sort of name that crops up on Sky's sports bulletins at twenty past the hour, the last item before they hand back to the newscasters, something to the effect that Martina Hingis has beaten Iva Majoli in straight sets in the first round of the Milwaukee Open, or some such event that takes place in the parallel universe that is the women's - and indeed the men's - tennis circuit.
The scoreline caption (6-0, 6-1) will sometimes come with bad headshots of the two competitors - but I honestly couldn't tell you what Iva Majoli looks like. Then I have to ring her up and pretend I know loads. It's how it works some times. So they pass on her mobile number and I call her Friday night - she is in a restaurant with friends in what sounds like a lively part of Zagreb.
What's Zagreb like at the moment?
"Well, it's raining right now and it's freezing and they said it's going to snow next week."
"I know, it's not the best time of the year but, it's the winter time, there is nothing we can do."
She is very nice actually - friendly, not guarded, quick to laugh.
She grew up in Zagreb, capital of Croatia, but moved to Florida when she was 13 to train at the Nick Bollettieri tennis academy. Her accent is a pleasant combination of America and east Europe, her English not quite fluent. A quick scan on the internet reveals that she has retained something of an independent spirit despite her years in the school for robots that is modern tennis.
Now 25, she turned professional when she was 14. Big things were expected but she was 19, nearly 20, when she won her first and only grand slam event, the French Open, in 1997. It was more or less downhill after that. According to one website dedicated to Iva ('The Diva'), "Some say she got a little carried away with the win and the party lifestyle took over."
Indeed after beating Hingis, the hot favourite, in the final at Roland Garros, the new champion declared with admirable enthusiasm that she was now going to party. "I like to party," she said, "I like to have fun, which perhaps is why when people expected me to win a grand slam at 16 or 17, I really didn't feel ready for that. I was just doing what normal people do. I think with me at 16, I was more like 13. I had lots of friends, I was always going out, nobody stopped me doing these things."
LOOKING back on it over five years later, she says she still wasn't ready for it. "It came as a surprise and I don't think I was prepared. Everyone wanted a piece of me and when there is so many people after you, you lose focus a little bit, which is normal I think. In tennis if you're not a hundred percent in it, you start losing."
But yes, she also made good on her promise to party. She laughs when she is reminded of her quotes from Roland Garros. "Well, I think we were still normal teenagers. I mean, everyone sees you as an athlete but in the end I was still 19 and, you also want to have some fun and I did go out after I won but people were always writing even more than I really did go out."
Her career has been decimated by injuries in the last three years, probably brought on by her early introduction to the professional ranks.
"Sometimes I feel it's actually too young to start that early. At 20, 21, you're burned out. I think when I got injured in a way I was happy because I needed a break, I was maybe a little sick of playing and travelling. It was so much pressure and I wasn't doing great at the time."
Now ranked 30th in the world she is finally back to good health and looking forward to a fresh start. Her season finished in October and she's been working "unbelievable hard" on her fitness in time for the new season.
"I think I'm at the best age, I think between 23 and 30 is the best age to play. And also I take things differently. If I win matches it's normal. Before, you win a tournament and then you're like, oh, I won a tournament and you're, like, flying but now - I mean, if I win another grand slam I will totally know how to behave and how to take things and how to look at things."
The inaugural USA v Europe tournament in Dublin this week will give her a good opportunity to assess where she's at. On Friday she will team up with Barbara Schett in doubles against Seles and Davenport. The next day she will face Serena Williams in the singles.
She has known Sean Collins, the tournament director and former tennis professional, for a long time. "He's a very good friend of mine and he told me lots about it so I'm very excited to be there. It's an honour to be with the top players and compete for Europe so" - and she's laughing out loud again - "I'm hoping I'm not going to disappoint my European team."