ana vs henin

Posted on June 7, 2007


Don’t we all love an underdog story?

19-year old Serbian tennis player Ana Ivanovic has a great one. She grew up playing tennis inside a drained Olympic-sized swimming pool. Yes, you read right. And playing in the pool most likely helped her develop her deadly but accurate shots that stayed in line.

The New York Times related that story, to illustrate how far the teenager who grew up in a country (a part of now-defunct Yugoslavia) which didn’t have much of a tennis-playing tradition, had come. At this year’s French Open, there are three female Serbian players in the semi-final stage. Novak Djokovic is their compatriot who’s a rising star on the men’s side.

But the ex-Yugoslavia had another other tennis great, Monica Seles, who was training in the US.

As a child, Ivanovic was so inspired by Seles that she grew up wanting to be a professional tennis player.

Her story should inspire. Running out of money from her family and sponsors in Serbia, Ivanovic was sponsored by a German businessman, which allowed her to go to Switzerland to train.

That has all been worthwhile. Today, Ivanovic annihilated Russian diva Maria Sharapova with a stunning 6-2, 6-1 defeat in their semi-final match in the French Open. Not a moment too soon, as Sharapova’s shrieks were getting unbearably annoying.

On Saturday, Ivanovic will meet the world’s top clay-court player, Justine Henin, who’s trying to make a bit of history herself, by going for her fourth French Open title, and her third consecutive. Interestingly enough, Ivanovic’s inspiration Seles was the last woman to have won three French Open crowns consecutively.

Another coincidence – Henin beat another Serbian, Jelena Jankovic, during the other semi-final, to face Ivanovic for the title match.

Henin will be a tough hurdle for Ivanovic, no matter how hard we might cheer for the underdog.

But with the crop of talent like the two Serbians, there’s perhaps hope for the future of women’s tennis.