Very nice article
He knows Ana very well
Glass Half Full: Tignor On Ana Ivanovic
By Steve Tignor
INDIAN WELLS, Calif.—How will Ana Ivanovic spend the day before her match? She might lie in bed and listen to a smoothie like David Gray or John Mayer. Or she might read some of the Dalai Lama's advice on the art of happiness. Then she'll head to the courts and try to win some money off her coach by hitting five slice backhand drop shots in a row. Finally, she'll finish by sealing up a few Tupperware containers so she has something to eat after her match tonight. The life of a tennis star and global celebrity can be pretty low-key around these parts.
"I'd like to find a restaurant here that's open after 8!" Ivanovic says with a loud laugh and bursting voice that echoes around the players’ lounge at the BNP Paribas Open.
Ivanovic's press conferences are marked by fast-talking and big smiles.
Not that she's complaining. I doubt she needs too many tips on happiness from the Lama. Ivanovic is a glass-half-full kind of person all the way. The analogy itself is too dreary for her personality—why even ask? She'd just drink what's there and fill the glass back up.
When we met for an interview yesterday, Ivanovic said, "Hi, I'm Ana," and shook my hand. Not all the players shake your hand. Roger Federer, sure; Rafael Nadal, not at the beginning of an interview—when I talked to him, he seemed too ADD at that moment to get his arm all the way out—but yes at the end; Dinara Safina, no. When Ivanovic was led into the deserted lounge yesterday, she looked around and smiled.
"It's so quiet here, I love it." (Can her glass be very half full?) Ivanovic took a chair, sat at its very edge, and leaned her head toward each question as if she couldn't wait to get down to communicating. A phrase I've heard applied to certain happy people from my home state of Pennsylvania came to mind. They say that deep down, PA-ers, when all is said and done, "know that the truth is good." The look on Ivanovic's face makes you think she knows the same thing.
Despite her enthusiasm for other people—no pro has as much fun on a practice court with her coaches and none takes questions from the press with such a forthright eagerness—Ivanovic betrays some qualities of the loner. She reads a lot and likes to "lose herself in her thoughts" with her headphones on. She likes this relaxed and out-of-the-way tournament because "it's so nice to have time to yourself."
"Sometimes I wish I could get away from everything and go somewhere where nobody knows me," she says, laughing, of course; it's not a melancholy concept to her. If Ivanovic is a loner, she's a happy loner, not a tortured one. Being alone seems less an escape than just another way for her to enjoy herself, not all that different from running around a tennis court. The sport fits her; it's made for that weird paradox, the outgoing loner.
"But I know I can't just disappear."
"People everywhere know you now?"
"Kind of, yeah," she says, just smiling this time.
It's true, there's no disappearing for Ivanovic, especially when she's on the court. But getting away from it all crossed her mind more than once over the last six months as her results suffered. "I was a little tired of the game," she says, "and feeling a little lost on the court."
She says she had "doubts" out there. "I would ask myself, 'Should I play aggressive [the way Ivanovic says it—aggresseev—the word sounds, well, not all that aggressive] or hit with spin. After a point, I would think, what should I have played? I'd hit one ball one way and the second ball differently." You could see this most clearly at the Australian Open, where she was outhit by Alisa Kleybanova in a sloppy third-rounder.
A lot had happened in a short amount of time for the then-20-year-old. In the spring, Justine Henin had retired abruptly and unexpectedly. While that event allowed Ivanovic to win the French Open and reach No. 1—"my dreams"—it also put her a little ahead of schedule, according to her former coach, Sven Groenefeld, who has said that they weren't quite prepared to handle that success.
"I didn't feel the pressure of No. 1 right away," Ivanovic says, dismissing the idea that she was overwhelmed at Wimbledon by her new status last year. (Actually, "dismiss" is way too strong a word for how she speaks—"smiles it off” is more apt.) "I was just happy with everything all at once. The pressure didn't come until later, after I was hurt [she injured her thumb during the summer of 2008]. At the U.S. Open, I wasn't fit enough to play. These were hard times."
"Pressure" is a word that Ivanovic repeats many times in a conversation—not surprising, she says about three times as many words per minute than most other people. But pressure keeps coming up. The way she says the word, it sounds like she wouldn't know what it was, except that other people are always asking her about it. Still, early this year Ivanovic found herself missing it.
"At the start of the season, I knew something was wrong. I was too relaxed," she says. "Nobody was putting pressure on me anymore! I wanted it back. I know now it makes you sharper. It's a reward."
Though she has struggled since winning the 2008 French Open, falling from No. 1 to No. 7, Ivanovic remains a huge draw.
You can add pressure to the list of things Ivanovic loves. She loves playing tennis, she loves competing, she loves roller coasters, she loves the desert weather, she loves the United States, she loves the BNP Paribas because there's nothing going on, because she gets to "go home and chill out"—she's even found a way to love Coldplay (what won't she love?). And she loves working with her new coach, Craig Kardon, with whom she hooked up with earlier this year after she and Groenefeld split up.
"I enjoy so much working with him," she says of Kardon, ex-helper of Martina Navratilova. "He makes me confident"—another favorite word—"and he supports my aggressive game. We play lots of different games in practice, and we always make bets, which is so much fun."
Ivanovic says she has learned about herself these last six months. She's not utterly dependent on her entourage—she looks to them during matches but doesn't lock eyes with them the way, say, Henin did—and she doesn't need a coach to tell her everything. But she does need someone to back up her own ideas of her game, so there's no confusion in her mind when she's out there alone.
"The coaching relationship gets very intense," she says, "but you're still by yourself on court." Ivanovic thinks she has turned a corner, gotten back to basics—aggresseev-ness—and the world will see the results soon.
"My goal this year is to win a Grand Slam." This was somewhat more ambitious than what Safina stated as her 2008 goal on Sunday: "To stay healthy."
We'll see what happens. Ivanovic has been up and down in the tournament so far, but true to her word, she's been forcing the action, and she's too superior an athlete to lose to many lower-ranked players when she does that. But if she goes down to Flavia Pennetta tonight, we'll be talking about the Serb’s demise all over again.
Beyond her game, what's most interesting about Ivanovic is her stealthy intelligence. As I've said, she's a motor mouth, and it's hard to believe she can think with any depth at that speed. Her conversation can sound something like this, from her presser after her opening match:
"NoobviouslythereweresomethingsIwantedtoworkon . Oneofthemwascomingtothenet. ButIactuallyfeltreallyshortoutthere." Pause to see if anyone catches the joke. No. Nobody could follow her. So she gives the explanation: "I got lobbed a couple of times." How did she work that joke in there? There's more depth of mind in Ivanovic than you might believe possible at first. It's heartening to think someone this sunny on the outside can be quick and thoughtful and not angry on the inside. Maybe the truth really is good.
We know the sport is better off with Ivanovic winning. That's not because she's good looking, or not just that. It's because, when she's hitting her smooth, aggresseev shots and trying out her happy fist-pump, she makes the sport itself look good. Tennis is not just for quiet masters like Federer or fired-up superjocks like Nadal or ultra-confident competitors like the Williamses. It isn't just for loners, either. Ivanovic shows us it can be for lovers, too.