Ana Ivanovic: A model pro but she desperately needs the right man
She was the Grand Slam winner with the world at her feet but has tumbled down the rankings. Now – after trying out seven coaches in five years – she may finally have met her love match. Paul Newman meets Ana Ivanovic
Sunday 24 April 2011
The best-looking woman in the history of tennis – as nominated by Melbourne newspaper The Age – is struggling to find the right man. Ana Ivanovic, who has won more awards for her beauty than for her tennis in recent years, has started working with the Australian coach Darren Cahill, but it is probably just as well that he is employed by adidas rather than by the 23-year-old Serb. Cahill is the third coach to work with Ivanovic in the last six months and the seventh in the last five years, not counting those who have helped her on a temporary basis.
Since parting company in 2006 with Zoltan Kuharsky, who was her coach in her early years on the tour, Ivanovic has hired and fired David Taylor, Craig Kardon and Heinz Gunthardt, while a trial period with Antonio van Grichen lasted a few weeks. Her most successful coaching association in that time was with Sven Groeneveld, another member of the adidas player development programme.
Ivanovic's fitness trainers have had similar shelf lives. Pierre Paganini, Scott Byrnes, Damian Prasad and Marija Lojanica have all come and gone. Most recently, Ivanovic has worked with Gil Reyes, who made his name with Andre Agassi and is also an adidas man.
While the adidas connection is of great benefit to players who are between coaches – Andy Murray is currently taking advantage of the programme – it is hardly a long-term solution. Cahill, Groeneveld and their team help a number of players, have limited time available and are not allowed to work with anyone facing an adidas stablemate in their next match.
Considering her track record with coaches, you might expect Ivanovic to be difficult and confrontational, but nothing could be further from the truth. The former
world No 1, as good-natured a character as you would wish to meet, has a warm smile and a kind word for everyone. She says there is nothing she wants more than to establish a successful long-term relationship with a coach who can take her back to the top of the game, which was where she stood after winning the French Open three years ago.
"I know that us girls aren't the easiest to coach," Ivanovic said. "It's a strange situation. A coach is in charge of a lot of things, but on the other hand we're the boss. On the men's tour it's a bit different because I think for a coach it's easier if the guy is the boss. All of a sudden they have a girl who is the boss. It takes a certain ego to be able to accept that. I don't think there are many coaches who are willing to do it. There are a lot of them who try to control a lot.
"You want a coach who is going to push you and be strong and be in your corner when it's tough, but sometimes you have coaches who think they are more important than the players. That's where the conflicts come."
Had she thought of employing a female coach? "There aren't many woman coaches in general and I actually think it's good to have a male coach," Ivanovic said. "Guys and girls have different mentalities. Girls are so stressed about everything. Guys take everything much more lightly. That's great and it's something we have to learn from. I think one woman on a team is enough!"
Spending a week in the company of her fellow countryman Novak Djokovic at the Hopman Cup in Perth in January was an eye-opener. "It's so much more relaxed with the men than on the women's tour and so much more fun," Ivanovic said. "They work really hard, but it's such a positive environment. I thought, 'Everyone around me is so stressed and down'. I'm like, 'Just be more bubbly and happy and upbeat'."
Ivanovic finds the intensity of a coach-player relationship hard to handle. "You can end up having breakfast, lunch and dinner with your coach, invite them to your home and it becomes so friendly," she said. "Then the border becomes a little bit lost and the coach thinks: 'Now I'm safe, I don't need to work as hard.' Then when you have to be more strict or even challenge the coach it becomes very hard because it gets personal. When you're working, you're working, but I try to keep a distance and let the coach do their own thing outside of practice.
"It's hard for players. We have our lives as well. I find it very hard to find a balance between that. A lot of coaches are very intense, which is good once you are working, but you don't want that all the time. I don't need someone who's going to tell me what to do because I know what I want to achieve and I know I have to work hard for it.
"Hard work is part of it, and I understand this, so I don't need someone to push me in that way. I just need someone to understand me as a person and understand what I need, someone who's going to be a little bit relaxed, because I'm such an intense person. I'm such a perfectionist and I over-analyse everything. I need someone who's just going to make sure I chill out a little."
When she beat Dinara Safina to win the French Open three years ago in her third appearance in a Grand Slam final in 13 months – she lost in Paris to Justine Henin the previous year and to Maria Sharapova in Australia – Ivanovic seemed to have the world at her feet. Her booming forehand was described as the best since Steffi Graf, while her victory proved that she could conquer her nerves on the biggest stages.
She was world No 1 for 12 weeks after her Paris triumph, but a loss of form and niggling injuries saw her slide down the rankings and she even dropped out of the world's top 50. She has failed to go beyond the last 16 in all 11 Grand Slams since winning the French Open. When she won a minor tournament in Austria last October it was her first win for two years.
Recent performances, including a win over her great rival Jelena Jankovic to reach the quarter-finals in Indian Wells, have taken her back to No 17 in the rankings and although it is early days she is enjoying her coaching set-up. She has a full-time hitting partner in Olivier Morel, while Cahill is a highly respected coach. The nature of the association also means that he simply does not have time to have breakfast, lunch and dinner with her every day.
Besides, Ivanovic knows that getting back to the top – which she believes she can do – is down to her rather than a coach. "At the end of the day, you're alone out there and you have to fight your own way," she added.
Life and times: A tale of sex, swimming pools and superstitions
Born in Belgrade, Serbia, the 23-year-old now lives in Basle, Switzerland.
Mother Dragana is a lawyer and father Miroslav is a businessman.
She was inspired to play tennis after watching Monica Seles on TV aged five.
Trained during lulls between Nato bombing raids on Belgrade in 1999. Practised in an indoor swimming pool converted into tennis courts because of a shortage of facilities.
Won the French Open in 2008, her sole Grand Slam success to date.
Serve has been clocked at 124.9mph, the fifth-fastest of all time.
Has a number of superstitions, including avoiding stepping on the lines of the court.
Named tennisreporters.net's "sexiest player of the year" five years in a row. Also won awards as "hottest female athlete" and "most beautiful body".
President of Serbia Boris Tadic attended her 20th birthday party.
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