But what separates her most from the rest of the women’s game is a growing, almost preternatural understanding of the psychological vagaries of the sport—a rite of passage for every champion.
When Ivanovic was asked about the most important match she ever played, she spoke briefly about her biggest win—defeating Sharapova in the French semis—but more extensively of her most spectacular loss, when she was routed by Justine Henin at Roland Garros in her first Grand Slam final, 6-1, 6-2. “Even if I lost the final and didn’t play the best tennis, I still learned so much from that experience,” she said.
“Each match until the final, I was thinking ‘O.K., this match, I want to play the best I can and see how this goes.’ In the final, I thought ‘Oh, my God, I could win Grand Slam! I might win Grand Slam!’ It went from technical part to emotional part and that was the big mistake. I wasn’t ready for that. Once I was on the court, all these emotions came and I didn’t know how to deal with it. But next time, if I’m in that situation, before the match I know I’m going to feel these emotions and be ready to put them aside and know how to focus.”
After a pause, she added, “Very easy to say, much harder to do, but this match helped me a lot.”
She described Henin as the player she feared the most on tour. (“She’s a great mover and doesn’t make many unforced errors so she makes you win points more than once.”)
And she discussed Venus and Serena Williams—the leaders of the women’s game over the past decade, against whom collectively she is 0-4—with equal humility.
“They both play very powerful,” she said. “It’s still something I have to practice hard on because they don’t give me much time to play my game. They dominate—they are the ones dictating. I really hope I can play against them soon because then I’m more comfortable with that kind of game.”
In other words, the more she sees them, the more she’ll learn and the better she’ll play against them. She’s a true strategist at heart, even though she technically plays without a coach. (She’s given one through her endorsement deal with Adidas, but he’s regarded as a consultant.)
It also says something about her makeup that she is most eager to face the players most likely to expose the weak point in her game: her lack of mobility, which leads to an inability to return strongly hit shots in the far court.
“My biggest weakness, there are so many girls that are hitting very powerful—myself, I hit quite fast—but when someone hits it even harder and faster then it’s going to be hard because I still want to have enough time to adjust and have time to hit the ball,” she said. “I’m working a lot on that aspect right now.”