Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Ana Begins

A Brief Chat with Ana Ivanovic
by rick olivares
(this appears in today's edition, January 30, of the Business Mirror)

“My friend assures me that it’s all or nothing. I am not worried. I am not overly concerned. My friend implores me for one time only. Make an exception. I am not worried.”
- from Counting Crows’ “Anna Begins

During Maria Sharapova’s march to the 2008 Australian Open crown, she disposed of Elena Vesnina who the media dubs as a clone of the Siberian Siren. In truth, Vesnina’s ethnicity and blonde hair are the only similarities the two have. If there is any player who is coming close to approximating Sharapova, then it’s none other than Ana Ivanovic who is also of 20 years of age and plays a power baseline game complete with atomic groundstrokes that can penetrate Kevlar without trying.

Yet Ivanovic is her own person and is making a definitive statement in women’s tennis with strong performances in three of the last four grand slam events that there’s certainly room for her at the top along with Justin Henin, Sharapova, Jelena Jankovic, Daniela Hantuchova, and Venus and Serena Williams. And outside the realm of tennis, the vivacious Ivanovic was in September 8, 2007, named UNICEF National Ambassador for Serbia and is beginning to enjoy some corporate sponsorship from adidas, Yonex, Verano Motors, and Juice Plus.

The 20-year old Ivanovic was two points away from dealing Sharapova her first set loss in seven matches in the Australian Open but Ivanovic faltered and was eventually broken twice in the second set for a 7-5 6-3 loss to hand the Russian her third grand slam title. “I was disappointed that I couldn’t find my game,” said the emotional Serbian who shed a few tears after the finals. “I served well but I had a shocker with my forehand. But on the other hand, Maria played very well and I have to give her a lot of credit. This experience will give me extra motivation to train even harder to make sure that next time I can go one step further.”

It was a tough loss for Ivanovic. But she was rewarded for her recent strong play by being ranked just behind world number one Henin after the Melbourne tournament. And a day after the women’s singles final, Ivanovic immediately planed for Hungary to join Team Serbia for training along with Jankovic, Ana Timotic, Vojislava Lukic for the 2008 Fed Cup. Serbia advanced to the World Group stage before falling to Slovak Republic. Serbia is bracketed in the Europe/Africa Zone I.

Ivanovic, who once trained in a drained Olympic-sized swimming pool back in her homeland during the Kosovo Conflict, graciously granted a short interview with BUSINESS MIRROR when she arrived at Budapest.

Rick: 2007 was a banner year for you. Are there more personal expectations since you’ve had strong showings in three of the last four Grand Slams?

Ana: I try not to have too many expectations, just goals. If I expect too much then I put too much pressure on myself, and I don’t achieve my best results because it becomes difficult to relax. But at the same time, I am now No.2 in the world so I know that I am capable of achieving a lot. I will have to learn to deal with this expectation.

Rick: It seems that Justin Henin has been a huge obstacle for anyone harboring Grand Slam dreams. Just how do you hope to play the female version of Roger Federer?

Ana: I’m really looking forward to our next match. In Sydney at the start of the year I came my closest yet to beating her – I lost 6-4 in the third. She’s a great player and in order to beat her I have to play my best tennis and be aggressive from the very first point.

Rick: I heard that you're a fitness buff. I'm sure it helps with your stamina and range on the court. Are you looking to expand your game as opposed to being a solid baseline performer? I know you prepare for each and every one of your opponents. Is there anyone who you really get up for with a certain game plan in mind?

Ana: I am always looking to improve all areas of my game, especially my net game. I like to play with some variety: slice, volleys, drop shots – not just baseline play. I devise a game plan for each opponent. I’ve played most of the top players before, so I know how they play. For others my coach does some research.

Over the last 18 months my work Australian trainer Scott Byrnes has paid off. I did a lot of stair sprints, sprints up the hills, in a gym, and also a lot of footwork on the court, specific footwork. My fitness coach is now trying to focus more on specific work for tennis, and that's obviously getting good results.

Rick: What's it like playing in what seems a golden age for women's tennis?

Ana: For sure women’s tennis is very strong at the moment. I’m enjoying my time. I am lucky to be doing something that I love, especially during a time that is very exciting in women’s tennis. I hope that more and more people start to watch and enjoy.

Rick: Was being a tennis player something you always wanted to be? If you weren't playing tennis what would you be doing?

Ana: I fell in love with the game when I was five and always wanted to be a professional. But it wasn’t until I was 12 or 13 that my family and I realized that I had a good chance. It’s hard to say what I would be doing if it weren’t for tennis. I like languages a lot, so maybe it would have something to do with that, or maybe something to do with business.

Rick: Good luck with the Fed Cup, Ana. And best wishes.

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