HER TENNIS CAREER BEGAN WHEN she was four years old and living in a town just outside of Belgrade. She saw a commercial during a televised match between Monica Seles and some player she couldn’t remember, before she understood what tennis really was. It was an important moment.
“In between breaks there was commercial for tennis school,” she said. “I remembered the number and asked my mom to call it for me and for fifth birthday my father bought me small tennis racket and a month later I stared playing tennis.”
Her game, however, isn’t patterned after Seles’s or, Ivanovic will say, anyone else’s. Ivanovic said she didn’t watch much tennis at all as an adolescent or as a teenager. (When I made reference during the interview to the 1999 French Open final between Steffi Graf and Martina Hingis, easily one of women’s tennis most famous matches ever, Ivanovic said she wasn’t familiar with it.)
“It just comes naturally,” she said. “Basically, I think technique is very individual.”
Her early life has been recounted by tennis writers in largely the same way: She grew up in poverty-stricken and war-torn Serbia and grew up playing tennis on a makeshift court inside a converted pool.
That’s partly the truth. When she was 11, she actually began practicing mostly in a tennis bubble, which was reserved for the country’s elite players. She also played on three clay courts in the town next to where she grew up, which may help explain how she won 16 out of 19 matches on clay this year. As a teenager, she began traveling to Switzerland, the European version of the Florida tennis factory.
It was also at the age of 11 that she changed the grip of her forehand, which resulted in the more powerful, looping stroke that is now her most lethal weapon. That change come at the recommendation of her former coach, Dejan Vranes, the person Ivanovic credits most for making her a top five tennis player.
Although he’s no longer her coach—he’s now the Serbian head coach during the international tournament, the Fed Cup—he remains close to Ivanovic. (At the interview, she wore a pair of earrings he gave her when she reached the French Open final.)
THE NEXT BIG STEP FOR IVANOVIC, if she is to continue on her breakneck trajectory, is to make the final at a major played on hard courts. She’s never made it past the third round at the U.S. Open.
On Sunday, she practiced at Louis Armstrong Stadium and said the courts are playing slow—much slower than they were at a warm-up tournament in Toronto a week ago, when she was bounced out of the first round by an unranked Chinese player.
One of the big wildcard factors over the next three weeks, for Ivanovic, will be the reaction of the fans.
New Yorkers always pick a player or two to carry on a wave of good feelings to the championships.
Ivanovic likes this.