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.
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.”
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.”
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: