As I write this story of Serbian tennis player, Ana Ivanovic, I choke back the tears... I was sharing a cabin with some Serbians on a train ride from Austria to London in the 90's. We talked together of the horrific tragedies they had just suffered as they lost most of their family, friends and home in the war. There tremendous strength of character was remarkable. They had endured the worst hardships, yet showed such grace, generosity and kindness, they even insisted I ate their last piece of chocolate. Those Serbian characteristics obviously weren't lost on Ana Ivanovic. The British have the "chin up old fellow" and the Serbs have profound intestinal fortitude veiled behind a charming nature. Anyone who questions Ana's strength knows little of her culture.
Ana Ivanovic was 5 when she first started playing tennis (well, she played guitar with one when she was 3). She learnt how to play in an empty Olympic size swimming pool in Serbia where players would often run into the wall. That was the least of the worries though as bombs were dropping around her as the 1999 NATO strikes bombed Belgrade. She rose from such turmoil to win the French Open to be ranked number 1 in the world. She is currently ranked 7th in the world. Ana overcame great challenges and obstacles to work relentlessly towards her dream.
Ana Ivanovic was very pressed for time between tournaments so her longtime agent and friend, Gavin Versi (who is just as lovely), sent through some of Ana's pictures and questions and answers from Ana's many interviews. Ana did have a moment though to share a life philosophy with my audience at The Global Townhall in the hope it will help to improve your life:
"I believe it's important to always have goals in life. Sometimes people will say that they are impossible to achieve, but it's amazing what you can do when you believe in yourself. It's also important to support your friends and family in their goals."
I normally would only include my own original material but since I am such an Ana fan I wanted to include snippets of some questions and answers with Ana with credits at the bottom:
How much hours do you practice tennis a day when there´s no tournament and how much time do you spend on doing fitness?
Ana Ivanovic: In the offseason, I usually do 3-4 hours of tennis a day, plus about 2 hours of fitness.
You have come a long way since your days of training as a child. Looking back what was the biggest hurdle you had to overcome?
Ana Ivanovic: The facilities in Serbia weren't very good when I was a kid, unfortunately. I had to go to Switzerland to train seriously. There was also the war and bombings in Belgrade, so it wasn't the perfect training environment, you could say! But I never thought, "oh, this is so tough" or anything like that. I simply loved to go to the court to play tennis.
You appear to be hitting more topspin forehands and a kick serve. Are these shots you have been working on since last year?
Ana Ivanovic: That's very observant. It's true. I worked a lot on my spin on my shots and my serve. It's a plan for me. An aggressive game is something I want to implement in my matches.
Where do you rank yourself among the top players on tour and behind who?
Ana Ivanovic: I think rankings, everyone that has a position deserves that position. It's fair enough. Everyone's aiming for the top. But overall, I think the rankings are pretty fair.
What kind of impact has Billie Jean King had on your life?
Ana Ivanovic: She's a great champion. She's brought so much to women's tennis. It's a great opportunity to participate in this event. She's a great woman. I'm sure I can learn a lot from her.
As a successful tennis player it must be nice to splash out once in a while. What was the latest extravagant purchase you made?
Ana Ivanovic: A few months ago I bought a holiday home in Spain. I wouldn't say it's extravagant because it's a good investment.
When it comes to fashion off the court what are the labels you love?
Ana Ivanovic: I like many brands, for example Chanel, Prada, Mark Jacobs and Louis Vuitton.
What was the last item of clothing you really 'splashed out' on?
Ana Ivanovic: A Roberto Cavalli dress.
Tell us about an outfit in your wardrobe which is your 'old faithful' and never lets you down?
Ana Ivanovic: Like most women I have a black dress that I can rely on.
When it's time for casual what do you reach for?
Ana Ivanovic: Jeans and a t-shirt. You can't go wrong with this combination!
Do you associate being a fashion icon and a tennis player as part and parcel of the same deal? Do you think the pressure/expectation ever take away from your game?
Ana Ivanovic: I don't think about myself in this way, but it is very nice to hear something like this. For me, I am a professional tennis player first of all. I never cancel practice for photo shoots, but I do enjoy the off-court activities. I think that the fans like to find out more about the players, and see us away from the court too.
Who do you admire most when it comes to fashion? Who is your best-dressed celeb?
Ana Ivanovic: Jessica Alba has very good style.
How do you relax? And what television series make you happy?
Ana Ivanovic: Tournaments are very busy with many off-court activities, so I like to relax in my room when I can, and then have a nice dinner with my team. I love to watch thrilling TV shows like Prison Break, Lost and 24. Friends is a long-time favourite of mine too. I also read a lot and watch movies on DVD or at the cinema. Away from tournaments I like nothing more than to catch up with my friends and family.
Gulf News, "11 April Sports Center" visit:, Sport & Style magazine:, Inside Sport:, ESPN.com fan chat:
The Australian newspaper:, Australian Tennis Magazine:
We wish Ana the very best and appreciate her taking a moment in such a hectic schedule to share the chocolate and offer some motivation to others.