Thursday, June 28, 2007

Ana the pride of Serbia

From the Daily Telegraph

By Paul Kent

June 29, 2007 12:00am

WHEN last we met, she was the pretty brown-eyed girl with the survivor's story.

Ana Ivanovic came from virtual obscurity to reach the French Open final this month, engaging all around with her unlikely tales of practising around NATO bomber planes on a court converted from a disused swimming pool.

Here was hardship.

Here was a young girl who wanted it so much she worked beyond the bombs and discomfort until she got where she wanted, which was as far away from where she came from as she could get.

She rode it all the way to the Paris final, when everything changed.

The French Open – indeed, the tennis world – had suddenly been awoken to the little country of Serbia that had provided three of the eight semi-finalists in Paris.

Heck, not only the tennis world was awoken, Serbia was awoken as well.

"Yes, it was very nice," Ivanovic, 19, said.

Afterward she flew to Belgrade with fellow Serbs Jelena Jankovic and Novak Djokovic. A car was waiting at the airport.

They were taken to Parliament in the centre of Belgrade and shown to the terrace overlooking the square.

Thousands were waiting.

"Maybe, I don't know, 10,000 . . . 15,000 people to welcome us," she said.

"It was an unbelievable feeling because they used to do that for basketball, yeah, volleyball players when they would win gold medals.

"This was one of the first times they organised for individual athletes. That was a thrilling moment."

For the sake of history, she didn't visit the pool they famously emptied and filled with an old carpet so the kids could practise their forehands. But she could have.

"Actually the kids are still practising there," she said.

"It still exists, the club I grew up playing tennis. So I go back there sometimes because it's very close to my house.

"Yeah, maybe one day I'll hit again there."

As the early grind of Wimbledon continues, the players are doing what they always do at this stage of a grand slam, which is jostle for elbow room as the first battle – to survive past the weekend – goes on. Throughout, Ivanovic remains a light. Still beautiful, still untouched.

She played American Meilen Tu last night in the next round of "exciting times", excited about the job ahead, as around her Martina Hingis advanced alongside Serena Williams, Justine Henin and Jankovic, all due to play tonight.

Far too predictably, the championships have thrown up no real surprises, at least none of any note, to spice up the early rounds.

Staying with the lack of surprises, the Aussie girls are almost all gone as the tournament heads into the third round.

Alicia Molik, Sam Stosur and Casey Dellacqua are all out with only Nicole Pratt remaining heading into last night's round, the last Australian woman, but almost by default.

Pratt advanced after eliminating Dellacqua, meaning at least one Australian had to progress from that match, and played world No. 10 Nicole Vaidisova last night.

Like in Paris, Ivanovic has promised not to look any further ahead than her next match. She is having too much fun staying in the moment to bother with what is too far ahead.

It is why she is the joy of her people.

"They recognise us much more because tennis is becoming so much more popular now and so many people follow our results," she said.

"We don't spend much time home. When I go back, I actually realise how many people know us and follow."

She is still too young to be bothered, though.

"I think that's part of what we are doing," she said

No comments: