Ana Ivanovic of Serbia, photo courtesy of Nebojsa Petrovacki, Sportska Centrala-Serbia

Ana Ivanovic of Serbia, photo courtesy of Nebojsa Petrovacki, Sportska Centrala-Serbia

A Summer Sizzler in Tennis

Comm Professor Covers the Action at Home Depot Center

August 20, 2007

By Nancy Snow

Sports enthusiast Nancy Snow, associate professor of communications, traveled to Carson last weekend to catch tennis action at the Home Depot Center in Carson

What’s the hottest country in professional tennis these days?  
It’s not the United States (Andy Roddick, James Blake), Russia (birthplace of Sharapova, Chakvetadze, Kuznetsova, Petrova), Switzerland (heard of a guy named Federer?) or even Spain (home to Nadal). Here are a few hints.  The capital is Belgrade and the population is just over 10 million. It’s the birthplace of 1990s world No. 1 Monica Seles. It once had the adjective war-torn before its name.  Answer: Serbia.  
You may not have known how hot this little tennis producing country was unless you were watching US Open Series tennis on ESPN this past weekend. Luckily for those of us who live in the Los Angeles area, we can see top world players play in person.  
I attended the Tier II East West Bank Classic <> at the Home Depot Center in Carson, also home field to what’s his name in soccer. There I watched a semifinal match between fellow Serbs Jelena Jankovic ("JJ" to shouting fans) and Ana Ivanovic. Both have shot up the international rankings to Top 3 and 4 in the world, just behind WTA <> Tour No. 1 Justine Henin of Belgium and No. 2 Maria Sharapova.  
Jelena and Ana are power players with Jelena known for a backhand down the line and Ana adding a dominant serve of 100-mph plus.  Both have fierce forehands. They played a competitive three-setter with Ana the victor, who now leads their match-up series 4-1. The 22-year-old Jankovic, though one WTA ranking higher than Ivanovic, seems to lack a certain confidence when speaking about the teenager. “Her game doesn’t really suit mine.  She goes for broke, doesn’t like to play many points, [and] she hits the ball very, very hard.”  
The 19-year-old Ivanovic is definitely a hitter, not a quitter. Her forehand is described as “monstrous” and Nadia Petrova said it was the best right now on the women’s world tennis circuit. Ana has something I never had when playing high school team tennis: an ace-producing serve in her back pocket. Tennis elder Martina Hingis could tell you that a get-me-out-of-trouble serve is a must have if you want to be in the Top 10 in the world or even dominant at your local country club.  
Ivanovic is a 5’ 10” brunette answer to Sharapova, but without the diva posing. In person she comes across as a very likable and down-to-earth Grace Kelly-like beauty. Check out Ana’s website <>, touted as the #1 most visited website of female sports stars, if you are keeping count of such categories. Her striking countrywoman Jankovic has an engaging and funny personality, telling one story about how young tennis players in Serbia played for watermelons, with a 14-year-old receiving a respective 14-kilogram watermelon.  
With career prize winnings of nearly $3 million for each, let them enjoy all the watermelon they can eat these days!       
Ivanovic would go on to beat Russian Nadia Petrova 7-5, 6-4 in the Sunday match final. Petrova was very gracious in her post-match interview, praising the teenager for her all-court play. Not only did she say Ana had the best forehand on tour, but she said that the Serb is downright dangerous in her play. “Even out of difficult positions she's coming up with big shots."
Ana’s play Sunday was inspired by that of her fellow countryman Novak Djokovic, who had just sent shockwaves around the tennis world moments earlier with his defeat of ATP world No. 1 Roger Federer in Montreal. Djokovic had a busy “What I Did This Summer” weekend with wins over Andy Roddick and Rafael Nadal before facing Federer in the final. If my eyes aren't lying to me, this guy will be the world No. 1 before the year is finished. And Ana may be right behind if her forehand and serve continue to sizzle.     
Novak and Ana were childhood friends who once played hide-and-seek together. Their families know each other and their paths have crossed quite frequently. This sparked the question someone had to ask in this tabloid-driven media environment. No, she is not romantically linked to the 20-year-old “it” guy on the men’s tour. “We’re good friends.”
What struck me about Ana’s play wasn’t her talent and confidence. Those are obvious. As I told her, what most impressed this tennis fan wasn’t what so many other top players have. It’s her joy on the tennis court and love for the game. Her smoking tennis game seems like more than just a J-O-B, even one that pays royally. And her passion for what she does reinforces how much I love what I do for a living.
That’s a lesson anyone can learn, on or off.

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