Ana Ivanovic - the star of Belgrade
By Guillaume Willecoq on Thursday 12 January 2017
In her Roland-Garros debut at the tender age of 17, Ivanovic reached the quarter-final stage. Three years later, aged 20, she won the tournament and took the world No.1 spot in her third – and, as it turned out, last ever − Grand Slam final appearance. There is clearly a "before" and "after" Roland-Garros 2008 for Ana Ivanovic; two very different careers on either side of Saturday 7th June 2008, the date she lifted the Coupe Suzanne-Lenglen and took over Justine Henin's crown, as predicted, to join her idol Monica Seles on the tournament's honours list. Ana Ivanovic may not have shown the consistency of her two elders, but she was still a prominent figure at Roland-Garros in the second half of the noughties.
After Justine Henin's shock retirement in the Spring of 2008, when she was world No.1 and three-time reigning champion, the Roland-Garros tournament was in need of a new queen. And who better than Ana Ivanovic to pick up the torch? Ivanovic had been the Belgian's last victim in the Parisian final twelve months previously, after having beaten the world No.2 and No.3, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Maria Sharapova, for a place in her first major final. Ivanovic had burst into the spotlight at Roland-Garros back in 2005, when she reached the quarter-finals in her main draw debut aged just 17, beating the likes of Amélie Mauresmo and Francesca Schiavone on the way. In 2008, she had even kicked off the season with her second ever Grand Slam final appearance, at the Australian Open.
World No.2 at the time, the 20-year-old Serb was the hot favourite to win the Parisian crown in the absence of queen Justine. Her maturity and the way she stood up to the pressure of this new status was certainly impressive: she did not drop a set on her run to the semi-finals, where she triumphed in an almost fratricidal duel against countrywoman Jelena Jankovic, at a time when the Ivanovic-Jankovic-Djokovic trio was putting Serbia well and truly on the world tennis map.
Having won the match 6-4 3-6 6-4, the Belgrade native's most difficult task was already behind her: in the final, her powerful forehand and previous experience in the event enabled her to overcome Dinara Safina, the world No.14, with a masterful performance (6-4 6-3 in 1 hour 38 minutes).
"When I trained, I would think about Monica Seles winning Roland-Garros"
Roland-Garros champion and world No.1 at just 20 years of age: the future looked bright for Ana Ivanovic. But the role of alpha female did not sit well with the Serb, and her triumph on 7th June 2008 seemed to somewhat satisfy her hunger. Having reached the semi-finals or better in four of the five Grand Slams she had played between Roland-Garros 2007 and Roland-Garros 2008, she then had to wait seven years before clinching another place in the final four of a major tournament…at Roland-Garros once again, her favourite Grand Slam, in 2015.
But this semi-final appearance in Paris, which marked a brief return to the WTA's Top 5, was not enough to quash the feeling that Ana Ivanovic would never again reach her 2007-2008 peak. The lady herself even seems to see it that way: a young champion, she has also decided to retire young, announcing that she is putting an end to her professional career at the end of 2016, just a few weeks after her 29th birthday. She says she has lived her dreams: "I grew up practising in an empty swimming pool which had two tennis courts inside it. In Serbia in 1999, with all the bombings, it was hard to imagine becoming a professional tennis player. When I trained, I would think about Monica Seles winning Roland-Garros. I wanted to achieve the same things she had." Unlike her idol, and contrary to what might have been expected back in 2008, Ana Ivanovic's reign at Roland-Garros was short-lived. But, just like her idol, she has her name etched on the tournament's list of winners. And that's what matters. "Ajde", Ana!
Ana Ivanovic’s record at Roland-Garros
37 wins, 11 defeats
1 title (2008), 1 final (2007), 1 semi-final (2015) and 1 quarter-final (2005). Ana Ivanovic was also finalist at the 2008 Australian Open.
12 participations to Roland-Garros (the first in 2005 as a 17 year-old, the last in 2016 as a 28-year-old)
Her staff when she won Roland-Garros: Sven Groeneveld (tennis coach), Scott Byrnes (physical trainer) and Marcin Rozpedski (hitting-partner)
Notables wins against Amélie Mauresmo (round of 32 in 2005), Francesca Schiavone (round of 16 in 2005), Svetlana Kuznetsova (quarter-final in 2007), Maria Sharapova (semi-final in 2007) , Jelena Jankovic (semi-final in 2008), Dinara Safina (2008 final), Ekaterina Makarova (round of 16 in 2015).