Ana Ivanovic, the modest 19-year-old Serbian tennis player, spent this past weekend traveling between the players’ hotel, at the Le Méridien on 57th Street, and the U.S. Open Tennis Center in Queens on a bus that departs once an hour. She is sharing a room with her mom. She’ll be in bed by 10:30, reading The Secret, the best-selling Rhonda Byrne self-help book.
“I want to go to Abercrombie and Fitch,” she said. “I want to get jeans. Their jeans fit me best.”
If she has time, she said, she’ll go to Macy’s too.
Some female tennis stars crave the chance to land high-end endorsement deals, to dress in Prada, to start their own fashion lines. Ana Ivanovic is not one of them. At a time when women’s tennis has been ravaged by indifference, injuries and shameless self-promotion, she may be just the player the Women’s Tennis Association desperately needs. She’s humble, smart, hungry and ridiculously attractive. Oh—and she has perhaps the best forehand in tennis.
Starting Aug. 27, when the three-week U.S. Open kicks off, she’ll be a star.
On Aug. 19, eight days before the start of the tournament, she strolled into the players’ lounge on the second floor at Arthur Ashe Stadium. She’s got an athletic shape, at 6-foot-1 and 159 pounds. She has almond-shaped brown eyes and a deep brown tan. She wore a pink Adidas T-shirt, and her hair in a ponytail and looked, despite the fact that she had just spent the previous 90 minutes hitting tennis balls, completely fresh.
She arrived accompanied only by her mother, who speaks little English and quickly excused herself from the room.
“I’m sorry for being late,” she said. (She was less than 10 minutes late.) “I was practicing.”
Ivanovic talks in long, unpunctuated sentences full of false starts (“I think, you know, so, yeah …”) but her English, which she learned nine years ago, is fantastically—refreshingly—expressive in a way that the language of the hyper-media-trained players from America and Western Europe rarely is.
She discussed her game, where in the last year she’s made a steady climb from 16th to No. 4 in the world, the youngest player in the top 10.
“For quite a long time I was around 20th, and I obviously wanted to make this step and break in the top 10,” she said. “I just needed more confidence and more consistency in my game so I would win against top players more often.”
She’s done exactly that. This year, she’s 5-0 against Maria Sharapova and Jelena Jankovic, the No. 2 and No. 3 players in the world, respectively. And she landed in the French Open final and the Wimbledon semifinals, her best-ever finishes in Grand Slams.
When it comes to tennis fundamentals, Ivanovic’s most powerful strength is her forehand. She begins the stroke with her arm turned at a high-arching angle that she whips down to smash through the ball in a style reminiscent of Steffi Graf. She learned it when she was 11.
“Since I was young they always told me I had a powerful forehand,” she said. “Really, growing up I realized that’s my biggest weapon, so I want to use it as much as I can.”
She’s also dramatically improved her movement on the court—helping her to move up 12 spots in the world tennis rankings in the past year—and she’s working on an increasingly powerful serve.