New Ana just wants to have fun
* Jessica Halloran
* From: The Sunday Telegraph
* January 16, 2011 12:00AM
Bombs away ... Ana Ivanovic takes part in a bombing competition for a New Zealand TV show at the Hilton on the Park swimming pool in Melbourne. Picture: Stephen Harman Source: The Sunday Telegraph
ANA Ivanovic is running along the pool deck in her bikini. She throws herself into the air, squeezes her gorgeous limbs into a tight ball and performs a massive bomb.
The splash hits nearby patrons of the Hilton hotel and they don't mind at all. "How was that?" Ivanovic shouts.
Kids stop playing their game of Marco Polo and cheer her work.
The 23-year-old is hamming it up for a New Zealand television crew shooting a segment for a sports show. She performs five bombs, trying to outdo a rotund TV presenter doing the same silly dives.
She performs every bomb with gusto. She's throwing her head back laughing, clearly enjoying herself.
This is what life is about for Ana Ivanovic these days.
About six months ago things threatened to fall apart, on and off the court, and it changed the way she viewed life and tennis.
In the middle of last year she split from long-time boyfriend Adam Scott.
On the court she was also struggling.
She was bundled out in the opening round of Wimbledon, slipped out of the top 50 and invitations to tournaments stopped coming.
The 2008 French Open champion notes it's not easy when both your personal and professional lives go awry.
"It's tough," she says. "I think it's better not to mix professional life and personal life - although it is hard. If you are happy in your private life, that will affect your tennis and that will help you, actually. During this time I found that it's important to listen to yourself and be happy.
"I mean everyone wants to be happy - people find happiness in different ways. While you want to pursue your career 100 per cent, I think it is very hard to give 100 per cent in something else. It's important to find this balance and priorities change throughout life."
On another dark day, manager Gavin Versi was telling Ivanovic about her tournament schedule and noted that she was waiting on wildcard invitations for events. "Geez, how low have I gone with my ranking?" Ivanovic asked him.
"You doubt lots of things, you doubt whether you are good enough," she added.
To drag herself out of her moods, Ivanovic would watch The Hangover. The movie would always lift her spirits.
She also drew support from fellow players Kim Clijsters and Novak Djokovic.
She often noted to her manager that "you find out who your true friends are" in the tough times.
Ivanovic is famous for her positivity as a person and even at her darkest times, she was fun to be around.
"She was still a joy to be around in her darkest moments," Versi said. "It is testament to what a positive person she is. She would occasionally resort to gallows humour. She'd make fun of how bad she was playing."
The days became brighter during the American summer. Her form started to click into place at a tournament in Cincinnati last August.
A victory over top 10-ranked player Victoria Azarenka fuelled her confidence.
During this time she had an epiphany.
She realised that she had the power within herself to improve her life. In recent years, she spent time reading philosophers such as Sigmund Freud looking for some answers.
"I always tried to look for my confidence elsewhere," Ivanovic said. "I'd try to find people who would help me get my confidence back. I didn't realise the confidence and trust is always within you and you just have to rediscover it.
"I was always looking for it elsewhere, but all the time it was within me. It was just clouded with negative energy and doubt and fear. To rediscover it really feels good. And you know it actually makes me feel stronger now. I know how to find it."
It takes time and patience to find this kind of inner will. Ivanovic attends to this way of thinking every day now.
"It's hard work," she said. "It still is. You have challenges every day. Not every day do you wake up great. But I just tried to relax a little more. I tried to enjoy little things more than I have done in the past."
At the end of the season she won titles in Linz and Bali. She resurrected her ranking and finished the season at No .17 in the world. The greatest thing she learned after the past six months was to have patience with herself.
"I learnt a lot of things," Ivanovic said. "I learnt patience. In my career, up until the moment I won a grand slam, everything was always going uphill, everything was always opening up to me and all of the sudden you have certain setbacks.
"Then you want desperately to get back on track, then it doesn't work and you panic more. You learn you have to accept the way things are and the sooner you accept them, the sooner you become at peace with them and then the things start to get better.
"I really tried to start to have more patience on myself on the court as well with my goals.
"Now with my confidence back, I want to straight away be having results.
"I want to win the Australian Open, but I have to accept it is a process still. Everything is. I think 'acceptance' was a big word for me.
"It's not only for my career, but my everyday life. It's hard. No one says it is easy. "I think once you take on a problem you can realise that you are stronger than what you ever imagined."
In recent months, the Serbian has lost 5kg. She looks incredibly fit and trim. She says she's added long-distance running and more intensity to her tennis workouts.
She has a new coach in Antonio van Grichen.
"I am excited to have him as part of my team," she said. "He is young, but he has been on the tour for a while. This is still a trial period but we work well together."
Last Friday, she was walking through the corridors under Rod Laver Arena and spied the life-sized mounted photographs of past Australian Open winners.
She turned to her doctor and said: "I want to have my picture on the wall." Her doctor pointed out she already was there. "Look, there you are," he said, pointing at the photograph. In the background of the 2008 photo of that year's Australian Open champion, Maria Sharapova, Ivanovic is a fuzzy, blue figure holding the runner-up plate.
Ivanovic turned to him and said with a laugh; "Yeah, but I want to be in focus."
Can she win the Australian Open this year? "I think it is possible," Ivanovic said. "I believe it is possible to win it. It's something I want to work hard towards.
"It's not going to be easy, but I like challenges. At the moment I am a lot happier than what I've been in a long time. Just with everything. I'm more at ease. That's the first step to something bigger."
Ivanovic is a chameleon. One minute she's posing for Sports Illustrated in a bikini, the next she's larking around in the pool like a teenager.
When she was originally interviewed for the New Zealand show The Crowd Goes Wild, it was Ivanovic who approached the presenter about doing something "fun" and different.
"I don't know how he came up with this idea," she said. "I think it is really interesting. Something like this has not been done before.
"In tournaments it's hard to get a chance to do something fun. So you might as well use it.
"That's something I learned and changed. In the past I wasn't really open to new experiences."
When she is in Australia, she likes to go surfing. At other times she loves to get a cappuccino and sit in parks just people-watching.
Today, she sits poolside, the sun is starting to slip below the horizon and Ivanovic is clearly content.
She's practising "patience" daily and more than ever before, ready to have fun. "I have learnt a lot about myself and I think that is very important, but I am still a work in progress."