ISSN 1759-2836 (online)
She’s the most famous Serbian girl since Kosovka Devojka. Last summer she was on top of the world. Her plans for this summer are pretty much the same. She is the girl who never stopped dreaming, she is tennis sensation.
Ana at the 2008 victory parade in Belgrade
More rain falls in June than in any other month. At least in my hometown and in Ana’s too. This June is no exception, as Ana prepares for Eastbourne, a grass court warm-up the week before Wimbledon. By the time you read this, we will all have willed Ana to win, and her Wimbledon adventure will be over, for better or worse. I was lucky enough to ask Ana a few questions. I start by asking how it feels to hear Serb voices egging her on when she plays at Wimbledon and elsewhere.
“It feels very special, knowing that there are so many people supporting me in this way. Even though we are a small country, I see so many Serbs around the world: no matter where I play, we always see Serbian flags and hear their voices. It’s a great feeling.”
Copyright notice: “UNICEF Serbia / Zoran Jovanovic Maccak”
Ana, 21, sought to defend her French Open victory of 2008. In the third round she beat Iveta Benesova 6-0, 2-6 in a match many considered her finest this year. Ana agrees, “Yeah, it was a pretty good match. I was really happy. Still the score doesn’t indicate how hard I had to work for some points.
“She started playing much, much better in the second set, and started hitting the ball much heavier. I just played really good and stayed in the moment and did what I had to do out there.”
Boris Tadić, the President of Serbia came to support Ana and her fellow Serbian players in Paris. She was clearly taken with the experience. “It’s great. I was really nervous, actually, seeing our president in the box. But it’s a great honour for me. I think we, as athletes, have many new doors open up for us. This is one of them. I feel very honoured and blessed to have this opportunity.”
Indeed, the President actually attended Ana’s 20th birthday party. Quite a guest list!
By the fourth round, however the tournament had turned for Ana and she was defeated by Belarusian Victoria Azarenka, seeing her world ranking dip below the top-10 for the first time in over two years.
Copyright notice: “Manuela Davies / www.doubleXposure.com”
Ana has made some changes recently. Having trained with a part-time trainer for so long, she reflects on her newly appointed full-time coach. “Craig understands my game and what I want to achieve, as well, and he has lots of experience. We’ve been working on certain areas and certain aspects in my game coming forward and playing some feeling more comfortable.
“I’m just trying to apply that, but it’s great to have someone who can take care about practices so I don’t have to even think about it. I can just relax and switch off.”
After clay surface, Ana contemplates whether she felt ready to play on grass this year. “I did. I think Craig has lots of experience with Martina and other players, playing really well on the grass courts, and I think I have potential, my serve can be really big. Going forward I feel more comfortable. I think this year I’m very excited to come to Wimbledon and play.”
London is one of Ana’s favourite places in the world. At Wimbledon she confirms the hotel will have only one outlandish demand from the starlet, “Ice…a lot of ice, because I take ice baths as part of my recovery!”
She will almost certainly be scouting for a regular restaurant before Wimbledon. It is one of her famous rituals. The other is avoiding walking on the lines on court.
Born in Belgrade, Ana was five years old when she was inspired to start tennis after watching Monika Seleš on television at the 1992 French Open. She later memorised the phone number of a tennis school and enrolled. She was just 11 when NATO shelled Belgrade, enforcing morning-only practise. In the winter months, she played tennis in the bottom of a disused swimming pool that no-one could afford to heat. Someone decided to drain it and roll green carpet over. Indeed, those were the winter years of sanctions in Serbia. Immigration control was always longer, and visa always harder to come by for her and her fellow Serbian players than others. Such was her welcome to the international scene.
At 15, her determination to be World No. 1 impressed Swiss entrepreneur Dan Holzmann so much that he resolved to fund her professional coaching. She promptly lost the first round of her next tournament. As Dan recalls, “She was crying. She didn’t come out of the changing room for four hours, she thought I was going to end our agreement!”
She went on to reach the junior final at Wimbledon in 2004. Within months she turned professional. She continued her rise coming runner-up in the 2007 French Open and become World No. 1 after she won the 2008 French Open.
Dan Holzmann continues to manage her to this day.
Britić readers will recall that Goran Bregović enjoys reading Einstein’s (and Mileva’s?) Theory of Relativity. I asked Ana the same question. “I like to read books or watch movies, usually on DVD, but I enjoy going to the cinema too. I also like to listen to music. I have quite mixed tastes, for example I have Coldplay, Kings of Leon and also some Serbian music on my iPod. I used to read psychology books: they are fascinating, but in the end I didn’t find it so relaxing!”
Ana at Wimbledon in June 2009 sent to us by reader Branko Mileusnić
Since the age of 13, Ana has lived in Basel in Switzerland where she has had the best tennis facilities and trainers to hand. She still finds Switzerland breathtaking. But on tour, she admits the hardest part is missing her family. Still, Ana’s mother has never missed a match, despite herself being a professional lawyer. They shop together too, although at just one spree every few months, Ana is far from being a shopaholic. Skirts from the likes of DKNY and Louise Vuitton are probably her favourite purchase and mama’s keen eye means Anči never regrets a buy. When in Belgrade together, Ana is routinely stopped in the street or at restaurants and offered free coaching tips!
Absurdly beautiful, Ana is a one-girl rebrand of Serbia to the readers of FHM (she appears 23rd in their top 100 sexiest women of 2008) and plenty of other publications. She accepts this graciously, without a hint of conceit. She is genuinely bemused by the “will you marry me?” proposals she encounters. On court, Ana is first to sport striking new designs from Adidas. “I like to play in dresses, so they have the designers who obviously design dress for me. Yeah, so I’m always, yeah, the first one to play in these kind of dress.
But, you know, they’re doing really good job, and I think it’s becoming really feminine. I like what they’re doing. When I’m on the court, I don’t think too much about it.”
At home, she loves TV thrillers (24, Lost, Prison Break – she would most love to meet lead actor Wentworth Miller). At the cinema she is a sucker for romantic comedies at the cinema (Love Actually, Little Miss Sunshine).
She is learning Spanish and studying Finance.
Ambassador for Serbia
In September of 2007 Ana was appointed goodwill ambassador by UNICEF for Serbia. “It’s such a great honour. I enjoy spending time with kids, so when I was asked if I wanted to become a UNICEF ambassador it was a very easy decision,” she explains. “When I am in Serbia I take part in events such as visiting schools or just recording a message to be shown on television. Considering that I am not very often in Serbia we try to do some things to help that don’t require me being there: I have written many newspaper columns, donating the fee to UNICEF, and we are about to launch some special t-shirts with adidas, with all the profits from sales going to UNICEF.”
“I am concerned mainly with the ‘School Without Violence’ programme, where we are trying to increase awareness about children’s safety in school and reduce the amount of violence that they experience.”
Finally, Anči’s message to her Britić fans
“I’d like to thank them for their great support, and I hope they will enjoy the grass court season!”
10 Things You Didn’t know about Ana
1. She loves sarma but rarely permits herself to indulge!
2. She appeared on Serbian postage stamps during the run-up to the 2008 Olympics.
3. She considers loyalty her greatest quality.
4. Her favourite quote: “A smile is a curve that can straighten out a lot of problems.”
5. She is over six foot tall.
6. Her website is the most visited of any sports woman in the world.
7. Her iPod and Blackberry are essential. She is suspicious of starting Facebook in case she gets addicted.
8. She famously cries “Ajde!” after a winning shot.
9. She received no Valentine’s Day cards in 2007.
10. She will never die her hair blonde.