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Home > Sports > Interviews

The Rediff Interview/

'Sania can definitely go far'

June 19, 2007

Ana Ivanovic
From playing in an empty swimming pool in war-ravaged Serbia to making the final at the French Open, it has been one roller-coaster ride for Ana Ivanovic.

After winning hearts at Roland Garros with a gritty performance en route to her first Grand Slam final, where she lost to Justin Henin, there is little doubt that the 19-year-old Serb is here to stay.

Also see: From pool to prominence

Ivanovic, who shot up to sixth in the world rankings after her exploits in Paris, took up tennis at the tender age of five, but there were obstacles at every step. She would train only in the morning because of the bombings in her city in 1999. Lack of adequate infrastructure meant that she had to train in empty swimming pools in the winter.

In an e-mail interview with Special Correspondent Harish Kotian, the teen star sheds light on her plans for the future.

Ana, it was a dream run for you at the French Open. How would you sum up your showing at Roland Garros?

It was a great tournament for me. I didn't have big expectations; I just took it match by match and this was my best-ever Grand Slam. I enjoyed so much and the experiences will definitely help me in the future.

What went wrong in the final?

Unfortunately, it was the nerves. I started off well, but then all of a sudden from one game to the next it just hit me. I had never been in a Grand Slam final before and I panicked a little bit. I had problems with my ball toss and I was just thinking about that; so it was hard to think about what I had to do with the rest of my game.

I am disappointed because I didn't do justice for myself, but I am sure I can use this experience and next time, hopefully, it will be different.

How did you prepare yourself for the final, considering it was your first in a Grand Slam?

I had great preparation. I was actually surprised that I didn't think about it as much as I expected. I slept quite well and had a relaxing dinner. Unfortunately, I couldn't prepare the tactics with Sven, who is my part-time coach, because he cannot coach me when I play another Adidas player. But, still, I felt good before the final.

Do you think anyone could have stopped Henin in that destructive mood? What makes her such a difficult player to beat?

She's such a great player, especially on clay. She plays with a lot of spin and moves the ball all around the court. She's also very tough. You know she isn't going to give you many free points. She's definitely one of the toughest opponents I ever played.

You played an absolutely perfect match against Maria Sharapova [Images] in the semi-final when you beat her in straight sets. Do you think it would have served you better if you would have played a few tough matches before the final?

I did play (tough) matches before the final! (Anabel Medina) Garrigues in the fourth round was extremely tough. She was getting all the balls back, not making mistakes. It was a big battle. Then in the quarter-finals against (Svetlana) Kuznetsova, was also a tough match, three sets. So I definitely had tough matches before the final.

Looking back at the time when you played in the swimming pool, how much would you say it has helped you in the overall development of your game?

I'm not sure if playing in a swimming pool especially helped for tennis; but definitely training hard in Belgrade when I was a kid, obviously, was very important for the player I am today. My first coach Dejan (Vranes) showed me the game and taught me a lot.

What were the hardships you faced as you grew up and what lessons you learnt from it?

Unfortunately, the facilities in Belgrade weren't good. That's why we played in this swimming pool. It wasn't easy, but I was never thinking 'oh, this is so tough'.

I was always a positive person and we got on with it and trained. The time during bombings was definitely difficult for everyone. My parents, they really protected me from it and we came through together.

Ana IvanovicHow much support has your family provided as far as your tennis career is concerned?

I owe them so much. They are the most important people in my career for sure. They always supported me so well. They never pushed me to do anything. Actually, I was pushing them! They always gave me great advice, but they respect my decisions.

We have a perfect relationship. It's great that my mum travels with me and I enjoy tournaments more when my father and brother can also visit.

You played against Sania Mirza [Images] in the second round and beat her quite easily. What is your impression of Sania?

It definitely wasn't easy. The score, maybe, looks easy, but it was a tough match. She surprised me, actually; I knew she was coming back after an injury, but she played great tennis. She was consistent. She can definitely go far.

How did it feel to get that huge reception when you returned home? How special was it for you, Jelena Jankovic and Novak Djokovic to get a heroes' welcome in front of the Belgrade City Hall?

It was an unbelievable feeling. Really, it was overwhelming, all these people greeting us. I will never forget it. I heard what they had planned, but until I saw it I didn't realise how happy everyone was and that makes me feel very proud and humbled.

It is easy to get distracted after receiving so much media attention, so much adoration from the fans after such a fine performance. How do you plan to keep focus going into Wimbledon?

I think one of the reasons I did well in Paris was because I took it match by match. In the past I sometimes got too excited thinking about the finals. So I just need to do the same at Wimbledon.

Pressure comes from myself, because I expect a lot, but I am trying not to put so much pressure on tournaments and to be less emotional during matches.

How are you preparing for Wimbledon? The last time you made it to the fourth round. Do you think you can better the record this time?

I hope I can do better this time. I improved a lot since last year. But my goal is always to win the first round match! Then we will see... I'm preparing in Holland, playing in Hertogenbosch. Before that, I was training in Barcelona for a few days.

- Check out Ana Ivanovic's official website

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