Ana Ivanovic has a new all-Serbian team behind her for the first time
The 26-year-old has parted company with a number of coaches in the past
The Serbian's last grand slam success came at the French Open in 2008
She is feeling confident about new season after finishing 2013 ranked 16th
Rip it up and start again.
As a 20-year-old, Ana Ivanovic claimed the French Open on Roland Garros’ clay courts. All the portents suggested great things were ahead of the Serbian.
Here was a tennis player with an impressive forehand and serve, with the added bonus of being incredibly marketable.
But six years on, much like the characters Vladimir and Estragon in Samuel Beckett’s play “Waiting for Godot” – a drama about the passing of time – the wait for a second grand slam shows no sign of ending.
Since that win in Paris in 2008, Ivanovic has suffered from big-match nerves, serving woes and a series of injury problems.
It is arguable she has also endured something of an identity crisis, chopping and changing coaching teams along the way.
Her continuing search to help solve this problem and allow her to feel comfortable in her own skin has led her to appointing a support network who speak the same language.
“I’ve been working really hard,” Ivanovic told retired grand slam champion Kim Clijsters in an interview for CNN’s Open Court show. “I have a new team with me since Wimbledon and it’s a Serbian team for me for the first time.”
Ivanovic’s new team includes coach and hitting partner Nemanja Kontic – who represented Montenegro in the Davis Cup – fitness coach Zlatko Novkovic and physio Branko Penic.
They have all been part of her entourage since her split with British coach Nigel Sears in July, following a second-round exit at Wimbledon.
Her career is littered with coaches who have come and gone as she has searched for a winning formula to challenge consistently for grand slams.
Since parting company with her early mentor Zoltan Kuharsky in 2006, she has employed David Taylor, Craig Kardon, Heinz Gunthardt, Antonio van Grichen and Sears. A number of others have also helped her temporarily as part of the Adidas Player Development program.
It’s not just coaches that have come and gone. It’s also true of fitness trainers.
Such constant chopping and changing suggests a player stuck in a rut, desperately searching for a way out of it.
Her desire to follow up that 2008 French Open win has also led Ivanovic to ponder why she picked up a racket at the age of five in the first place – for the enjoyment.
“We are also having more fun and a lot of laughs on the court as well to make it interesting, because the year gets very long,” she said of her team.
In Kontic, Ivanovic may not have a wise professor on her hands as she did with Sears, yet the 32-year-old, ranked 1,635th in men’s doubles, is able to offer her something that respect within the game cannot always buy – a shared cultural identity.
“I’m really enjoying someone who speaks the same language and can understand you,” Ivanovic said.
Employing a coaching team made up of her compatriots could be key to Ivanovic performing consistently, according to a former grand slam champion turned coach.
“She’s hooked up with someone she has trust in and she’s finding herself,” Jo Durie, who won mixed doubles at the Australian Open and Wimbledon, told CNN.
“It’s about confidence with Ana. Her sense of trust in herself is what she needs.
“A lot of players on tour jump around with coaches, I can never understand that. You need to get to know someone.”
Ivanovic’s solitary grand slam win helped the baseliner become the world No. 1, for 12 weeks in total.
Now ranked 14th, she has been outside of the top 10 since June 2009, partly explained by her inability to reach the final four of a grand slam since that 2008 win over Dinara Safina in Paris.
Wrist, shoulder, foot, abdominal and hip injuries all took their toll as Ivanovic fell to No. 65 in the rankings. Although she acknowledges that there have been improvements in the demands of the WTA Tour calendar, parts of the worldwide schedule are still difficult for the players.
“Especially at the end of the year when from America we mostly go back to Europe for a week and then we go to Asia for quite a few weeks, so that’s kind of tiring and hard,” she said.
“I know it’s difficult to fit it all around it, but Asia at the end of the year really gets a lot of players.”
While her playing fortunes might have fluctuated, Ivanovic’s marketability has never been dented.
According to Forbes, she was the ninth highest-paid female athlete in 2013 with total earnings of $7 million – brought in largely thanks to lucrative sponsorship deals including Adidas, Yonex, Juice Plux and Dubai Duty Free.
Ivanovic has had a number of high-profile boyfriends – including Masters-winning golfer Adam Scott and fellow tennis player Fernando Verdasco – but as Caroline Wozniacki has discovered, it is tough combining consistency on court with such a relationship.
Her latest campaign, though, does not look like being clouded by such distraction or, just as importantly, injury.
Kicking off the 2014 season in Auckland, New Zealand, she ground out a victory against fellow former No. 1 Venus Williams to end a more than two-year title drought. It was the ideal preparation for next week’s Australian Open.
Despite Ivanovic’s obvious talent, Durie doubts whether her game has the consistency required to win a grand slam.
“I think she’ll find it difficult,” added Durie. “She can beat the top players, but to win a grand slam you have to win seven matches.
“She’s capable of big wins, she can certainly beat players like Serena Williams. But can she beat Petra Kvitova and Serena in a row?”
Clijsters retired for a second time in 2012, having won four grand slams, as she decided to focus on her family – and has since had a second child.
Ivanovic, now 26, admitted that she too has started thinking about life after tennis.
“I still feel like there is so much I can achieve and so many tournaments I can win,” she told the Belgian.
“I don’t want to put a date to it because I think you feel it when the time is right. Family is a big part of my life and I want to have lots of kids of my own one day.
“Tennis is a big part of my life, but it’s not my whole life. So definitely I want to achieve what I can on the court and then focus.”