I jump on the phone with Ana Ivanovic, just days before she flies to Chicago to start a new life with her footballer husband Bastian Schweinsteiger. It’s a novelty to have a fellow Serbian interviewing her and she’s quick to settle into her story of growing up in Belgrade and sticking with tennis in a war-ridden country during the nineties, memories of which I immediately relate to.

Her story is well documented: She had talent, ambition and personality that took her to the WTA tour at 18 and on to World Number 1 and a Roland-Garros Grand Slam title in 2008. After 15 WTA crowns and over a decade on the Tour injury forced her into retirement just ahead of her 30th birthday. I start by finding out how she’s feeling calling time on her tennis career.

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“Any change is not easy. Change means getting out of your comfort zone and is a step into the unknown. For most people, that’s frightening. But this is where your belief in yourself and in your decision, your judgment and inner feeling can help.”

She stops for a moment, before she continues slowly:

“My decision to leave tennis was not easy but I think that it was the right one for me. I haven’t regretted it and I think that it has opened some new opportunities for me. Tennis has helped me a lot, but I knew when it was time to try out something new.”

She’s spent the first half of 2017 trying these new things one of which is more running.

“I’ve always found inner peace through running. Tennis is so intense that we generally don’t run long distances but now I run solely for myself in order to feel better, more prepared, more balanced.”

Ana-Ivanovic-enjoys-running-with-friends-ultraBoost-X interview listen to your heart
Running with a group is a novelty for Ana and something she plans to do more of in her retirement.

There’s not only more time for hitting the pavement, but also doing it with a group. “I’ve never before run with friends, with other athletes; that’s simply not been a part of our sport.” This changed when Ana took on the UltraBOOST X challenge of five runs over two days in San Francisco.

“And we had a few hurdles to overcome in San Francisco. The weather wasn’t ideal – it was rainy and cold. The terrain was rather challenging and hilly, quite a distance to run.  But the girls…all the girls were great. We cheered each other on, motivated each other, pushed ourselves when things got tough, and the atmosphere was truly rewarding.”

This human component can change the way you perceive sport.

“If you have a problem finding the motivation to do sports, call a friend or someone close to you, grab them by the hand and off you go – it’s so much easier with company. It’s crucial to be active, regardless of age. Even the simplest of walks can help with your health and overall well-being. You just need to find what suits you and go.”

In her professional career, however, Ana had to go out on the court and fight her battles on her own. Her path was not smooth with her resilience and persistence being tested time and time again. I ask her whether tennis shaped her into the person she is today.

“Definitely, I’ve learnt tough but important life lessons: how to lose and how to win. Such experiences help you to realize that everything is not how you thought it would be – you need to compromise at times and keep on going even when the going gets tough.”

 

French Open - Roland Garros 2008 Ana Ivanovic champion interview listen to your heart
Ana Ivanovic tasted grand slam success at Roland-Garros on June 7, 2008. ©Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
French Open - Roland Garros 2008 Ana Ivanovic cheering interview listen to your heart
Her victory over Dinara Safina of Russia at the age of just 20 propelled her to world No. 1. ©PhoJulian Finney/Getty Images
Ana Ivanovic Toray Pan-Pacific Open Tennis interview listen to your heart
Injuries blighted the second half of Ana's career but didn't extinguish her passion for the game. ©Chris McGrath/Getty Images
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As our interview draws to a close I wonder whether she has a message for all the young people out there who want to achieve their best, on the court or track, in their studies and their community?

“What I’ve learnt and see today is that we all, and particularly young people, are faced with situations that are practically ‘set out’ for us: Others tell us what we need to do and how we need to behave, what’s good or bad for us. These are behavioral patterns that have been set out for us. I think that’s wrong.”

Hearing the spark and determination in her voice she continues:

“Don’t give up if you don’t mold into some set pattern. We’re all individuals and we all have something special; that something is what we should pursue. We have opportunity to create our own achievements. The only thing that matters is to believe in yourself.”

Ana concludes with her contagious enthusiasm, leaving me with some food for thought:

Do we genuinely believe in ourselves and our capability to achieve our best?

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by Gemina Stroud 25.05.2017
Insightful interview Nevena! I have always believed in myself and my capabilities. It is getting decision-makers to have the same belief that has proven to be the biggest barrier. I have often heard people say "create your own lane" "no excuses" but there are so many intricate factors that play major parts in one's success. But as they say in football, I will keep my feet moving!
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by Nevena Gemina Stroud 09.06.2017
Thanks a lot Gemina, it’s great to hear that you have embraced the much needed I-don’t-give-up-easily mindset! Success is far from being an overnight thing, but it seems to me that your belief in yourself, coupled with the athletes’ acceptance of both wins and losses (as Ana put it), can be actually the right recipe…So please keep your feet moving – forward!

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