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Old May 19th, 2008, 02:10 AM   #1
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British article

Sunday Telegraph feature

May 18, 2008 /

Ana is the subject of an excellent in-depth feature in Britain's Sunday Telegraph newspaper today.

The following is a reproduction of the article:

Ana Ivanovic sitting pretty for WTA top spot
By Clive White

The retirement last week of the remarkable Justine Henin will not be lamented for overly long by the powerbrokers of women's tennis. The tenacious Belgian bantamweight's game may have been a thing of beauty but it did little to help glamorise the sport or, to be more exact, from a Sony Ericsson WTA perspective, enrich it in monetary terms. But with Henin out of the way, a rivalry can now develop between the two pretty pretenders to her throne, Maria Sharapova and Ana Ivanovic, that may save the women's game.

All good rivalries need a contrast and that between the blonde Russian and the dark-haired Serbian continued apace last week in Rome, at least off the court, anyway. Ivanovic, rather than Sharapova, would have inherited the No 1 mantle from Henin had she gone two rounds further than her rival in the Internazionali BNL d'Italia, last week. As it is, she would probably prefer to earn it as of right by winning the French Open, which starts next Sunday. After finishing runner-up to Henin there last year the powerful six-footer will be many people's favourite.

Sharapova has long since lost the innocence that endeared us all to her to when, as a 17-year-old, she conquered Wimbledon and then excitedly tried in vain to ring her mum on her mobile from Centre Court.

Four years on, she is still brandishing her mobile but apparently less spontaneously after digging her stiletto heels in, diva-style, over a Sony Ericsson photo-shoot, held on the eve of the Roman tournament, for a campaign to launch the end-of-season Championships.

Eventually she agreed to be photographed for an hour-and-a-half while being driven around the city, pretending to use her phone. The 20-year-old Ivanovic, on the other hand, was mobility personified and found it "interesting" and "fun" to sprint through the Pantheon while tourists, looking on, cheered her. If she and Sharapova should dispute the final at Roland Garros in three weeks' time, just as they did the climax of the last major, in Australia, it's a fair bet that the majority of onlookers will again be rooting for the olive-skinned beauty with the personality to match. Sharapova leads 3-2 in head-to-heads.

Ivanovic will certainly have the sympathy vote as a result of her sad capitulation in last year's final, when, after impressively breaking the three-time French champion Henin in the opening game and then leading her 40-love in the next, she was consumed by a sudden attack of nerves.

"It just hit me where I was in that single moment as I tossed the ball up to serve," she said. "I started to think, 'Oh my God, don't panic now' and the more I thought about it the more I panicked. You just don't know if it will happen again, but I will definitely know how to deal with it better."

If she learns from her experiences, Serbia will surely soon have a first female grand slam champion to go with their first male, Novak Djokovic. The two budding world No 1s have come a long way since they played hide-and-seek together as nine-year-olds between matches back in their native Belgrade.

As for Ivanovic, she would practise in a disused swimming pool converted into two courts, in between Nato bombing raids on the city. If ever there was a triumph in the face of adversity it is theirs. Nothing was ever easy for them, even when it came to leaving their war-torn country.

"We didn't have flights from Belgrade so we had to travel to Budapest by bus," Ivanovic said. "Even for visas we had to line up from six or seven in the morning at the embassy for hours just to get into a queue to apply for a visa and then hope you would get one. And when you did get one and got to passport control they would take you aside and ask you all these questions." The fact that most Serbian passports still have the old name of Yugoslavia on them only adds to the confusion at border points.

After being treated as the pariahs of the world for so long, she and her compatriots Djokovic and world No 4 Jelena Jankovic, naturally take pride in being able to project a different, more appealing, image of their country. One way in which she has been fortunate is in having parents who in no way conform to the pushy stereotype. "I'm kind of stubborn, so if someone tells me to do something, I say, 'No, I don't want to', just to be opposite."

She thinks she gets her motivational drive from her father Miroslav, who was a basketball player. Her mother Dragana is a lawyer. She's also a bad loser, but didn't say who she got that from. She sheds her tears in private, however, as she did soon after Swiss businessman Dan Holzman began backing her as a 14-year-old, refusing to emerge from the locker room for four hours following one defeat for fear that he might want his £250,000 back.

"My parents never told me how much I had to pay back [only if she succeeded] so I wasn't thinking about it while I was playing, but in the back of my mind I knew about it. I was so happy to be able to pay him back eventually. Lots of girls say, 'My parents knew I was going to be a tennis player before I was born... that's something you really don't want to hear. It just doesn't sound healthy.

"And even if they're successful you start to question how happy they are as people. In the juniors I saw parents physically beating girls up. Many of them live their lives through their kids."

It will come as no surprise to anyone that she receives numerous proposals of marriage on her website.

"I've had a few during matches, too," she revealed. All of them, of course, politely ignored. But would-be suitors shouldn't necessarily admit defeat too readily, like many of her opponents on court.

"I wouldn't say I am putting boyfriends on hold," she said. "Of course, it's difficult because I have a very busy life and I am all the time travelling, but if I meet the right man, and he feels the same about me, I hope we could make it work."

That may come as some encouragement to her fellow Serb Janko Tipsarevic, who openly admitted: "I cannot even talk to her, she's too nice for me." And as a man who has the words of the writer Dostoevsky - 'Beauty will save the World' - tattooed in Japanese on his arm, he should know.


© Copyright of Telegraph Media Group Limited 2008

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