Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic have been the two biggest success stories in women’s tennis in recent times. Almost from nowhere, the two Serbians have achieved elite status on the WTA Tour, currently occupying third and fourth ranking in the world respectively.
You would think they have so much in common – both in their early 20s, both born in Belgrade, both refuse to talk about politics back home, both enjoying a meteoric rise to fame at the same time, both madly in love with their chosen profession and both have earned $3.7 million (Dh13.57m) on the WTA Tour so far.
But that’s just about where the similarity ends.
Jankovic (pictured above, right) is an out-and-out extrovert, Ivanovic has a more shy and introvert personality. Jankovic revels in making new friends, Ivanovic reveals she has no one she can call a ‘close friend’ on the Tour. And they are definitely not the best of friends.
Ivanovic says: “We are like from two different generations. We did not play many tennis tournaments together when we were growing up. And then she went to America and I was mostly in Europe. And once we were on the Tour, we have our own teams.
“Tennis players don’t like to mix with each other much. They prefer to stay in their own circle of trust. It’s hard to have a close friend, because you think someone is a close friend and the next thing you know is that they are not saying nice things about you. I don’t think there is anyone on the Tour whom I can call a close friend.”
On the other hand, Jankovic is one of the most popular players on the Tour, to the extent that she has to stress she never takes her friendships to the court.
“When I step on the court, I become a different person. I am very competitive and I want to win all the matches. I am always fighting. When I get on the court, it is like a battle. I just want to give my best and I do not think about being nice then,” said the 23-year-old.
“But as soon as I step off it, I become a different person. I like to laugh and smile a lot, and make new friends. So it is like two different personalities – one who is very feisty and competitive on the court, but a very outgoing, fun-loving person the rest of the time.”
But don’t judge Ivanovic by the number of friends she has on the Tour. The brownish-green-eyed 20-year-old’s favourite quote is “a smile is a curve that can straighten out a lot of problems” and the girl with a dazzling smile has perhaps one of the biggest fan bases in the game – and the fact that her website is one of the most popular sites of all female athletes in the world, is testimony to that.
Ivanovic says: “It’s definitely very flattering. My manager is doing a fine job of keeping the site updated and I think it is a great way to keep up with the fans and inform them what I am doing in my free time. I love writing my diary on the site. I really want to give them that information because without fans, you really won’t be out here.”
As soft as she looks from outside, Ivanovic is tough. What else can you expect from someone who learns kickboxing to help her focus and once practised tennis as a child in an empty swimming pool because Belgrade was being bombed?
Which brings us to Jankovic, considered by most as the fittest athlete in the women’s circuit, but she has been plagued by injuries and revealed she just won’t be the same person if she does not spend a considerable amount of time in the gymnasium.
“I am actually a natural athlete, but I have to work extremely hard to be strong. My body does not have the strength as the other girls on the Tour.
“I have to work so hard in the gym, and do other off-court activities, just to keep my muscles in shape. As soon as I stop working out, it is as if all my muscles melt. I look like a normal girl, who never plays any sports. But the good thing I have is the speed, which never goes away. I can move very well,” says Jankovic.
One thing both the stars agree upon is that however successful they become and whatever the situation in Serbia, Belgrade will remain their hometown.
Jankovic, who is a student of Belgrade University and hopes to complete her degree, said: “It’s just amazing how much they appreciate and support us. All the people are so proud of our achievements. They wake up at three in the morning to watch our matches. A lot of young children are taking up the racquet. I love going back there.”
And Ivanovic is absolutely certain she is never going to change her base, saying: “Serbia is where I am born and raised. The facilities were not really great there and the tennis association did not help us much. And we had to move out to find good practice facilities and coaches, but I am never going to leave Serbia. There are so many of my friends and relatives living there. I have some very nice memories growing up there.”
And despite the apparent lack of facilities, how did Serbia produce such champions as them?
Jankovic says: “I really don’t know. I am just so proud that we have three top-5 players in the world [including Novak Djokovic, No3 on the men’s Tour] from such a small country like ours.
“It is an amazing achievement.
“All three of us are still very young and all I hope is that we can continue like this for a long time and keep getting some good results.”
Born: February 28, 1985
Career Record: 273-155
Career Titles: 5 WTA, 5 ITF
Total earnings: $3,744,708
Born: November 16, 1987
Career Record: 184-62
Career Titles: 5 WTA, 5 ITF
Total earnings: $3,792,297
Serbian stars Jankovic and Ivanovic stand apart