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Smasher

As a child growing up in Serbia, how did you get interested in tennis?

I was watching Monica Seles playing in some tournament and during the commercial they showed an advertisement for a tennis centre. It looked like a lot of fun so I remembered the number and wrote it down, then begged my mom to take me there. After maybe one month of me pestering my mother, she took me for my first lesson and I loved it straight away. I was four years old at the time.

So, was Seles your tennis idol?

Monica Seles was always my biggest idol. It’s because of her that I started playing tennis. I was lucky to have the chance to meet her about five years ago, and we’ve met a couple of times since and stayed in touch. I also used to love watching Andre Agassi, and it was a thrill to actually play against him in a charity exhibition a few years ago.

What are your earliest memories of playing tennis?

I still remember my first lesson. What I remember even more is that a few weeks later, for my fifth birthday, my father gave me a tennis racquet, and that was one of the happiest moments of my life. Tennis has always been such a pleasure for me. I remember going to play after school and I was always so excited. I loved competing, and just hitting the ball over the net. I still do.

How supportive were your friends and family?

My family gave me incredible support. But actually, it wasn’t until I was around 11 or 12 that we realised that I had a real chance of becoming a tennis professional. Of course, I always dreamed about it, but it wasn’t until we had an offer from a sports agency that would help with my travel and tournament entries that we had to make a serious decision. My parents always hoped I would do something more intellectual. But they supported me 100 per cent. I couldn’t have done it without them. My friends too were really, really supportive. The tennis world is very different, very specific, so they didn’t really understand everything about it, but they always encouraged me and shared my excitement. I’ll always remember that.

When did you first realise that you had in you to enter the big league?

When I was around 12 or 13 I was offered a contract with a management company to join their international squad and travel to junior tournaments. Obviously this was a big decision to make, because it meant I would miss some school and be away from home. I discussed it with my whole family and we decided to go for it. My mum quit her job and travelled with me, which was a great thing to do on her part. She has been my best friend. My father and brother are great supporters too, of course, and they come to watch whenever they can.

What are your memories of the first big match that you played?

Actually my first match on a big court was an exhibition with Mansour Bahrami, Yannick Noah and Elena Bovina. We played mixed doubles in Basel when I was 15. I was so nervous! It was a big stadium and many people were watching. Fortunately Mansour and Yannick were very kind and did all they could to help us relax. They were really funny, and that helped calm my nerves.

Who are your friends in the tennis circuit?

I am friendly with quite a few players, for example Maria Kirilenko, Sania Mirza, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Sorana Cirstea. I admire Sania a lot. She receives so much attention, and is under more media scrutiny than any player in tennis, and she deals with it really well. She’s a very smart girl.

I also get on well with the Serbian male players; we always talk when we see each other at the club.

Who do you enjoy playing against the most today?

I love competing against the top players. That is my main motivation, and they are the players I most look forward to playing. There’s not one player in particular, but anyone who is near the top of the rankings.

Can you pick three key moments of your tennis career?

It’s hard to choose three but for sure one of them would be winning the French Open and becoming No.1 in the world. Another would probably be beating Amelie Mauresmo at the French Open when I was 17, and she was seeded three or four I think. Then maybe I would also choose winning Montreal in 2006, which was my first Tier I title. Certainly there are always some turning points in a player’s career and those were very important for me.

After a Grand Slam title and the number one ranking, how do you explain your slump? What are you doing to get out of it?

I think I made some very good improvements in Rome two weeks ago. Even before that, for a while now, I have been practising really well. I have been working very hard and I knew that the results would come, and now they are starting to come. I am feeling quite confident again, certainly the best I have felt on court in a long time, and I’m looking forward.

What would your advice be to youngsters in Serbia and other parts of the world wanting to take up tennis as a career?

The most important thing is to always believe in yourself. It’s also necessary to have the support of those you are close to, for example your family. I don’t think I could have had a successful career in tennis without them. It’s also important not to neglect your education. I had big hopes to become a professional, but I knew that the chances were small and I always worked hard at school. That’s very important.

Do you interact with players from other sports?

I know a few athletes from other sports, like (Australian golfer) Adam Scott. I also know some Serbian volleyball players, basketball players, footballers and swimmers. I met many of them during the Beijing Olympics and enjoyed talking to them about their training and learning more about their sport. One basketball player I know in particular, whom I really admire, is Sasa Djordjevic. He is a legend in Serbia and he is also a Unicef ambassador, so I’ve met him a few times through that.

Any India plans?

I haven’t yet visited but I would definitely like to go (to India). I am friends with Sania so I have heard a little about it. I love Indian food like Chicken Tikka Masala and spinach curry. I am aware that food in Indian restaurants across the world is very different to that which you find in India. It’s a shame there are no more WTA (Women’s Tennis Association) tournaments there, but hopefully there will be an opportunity to play in India sometime in the future.

CHIP AND CHARGE

Favourite stroke Forehand
Favourite film Hard to say, there are many! Probably The Notebook
Favourite actor Eric Bana
Favourite actress Meryl Streep
Most comfortable in I like to dress up from time to time, but I am most comfortable in something like an easy jeans and T-shirt combination
If not a tennis player, I would be Maybe something like a psychologist. I find psychology extremely interesting

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