Ivanovic honoured for her part in Roland-Garros history
Ana Ivanovic, the 2007 finalist and 2008 French Open champion, was honoured in a ceremony on Philippe-Chatrier Court.
Nine years after she lifted the Coupe Suzanne-Lenglen at the age of 20, Ana Ivanovic walked on to a sun-baked Philippe-Chatrier Court between the two women’s singles semi-finals for a ceremony to honour her contribution to history at Roland-Garros. The crowd had just serenaded the victorious birthday girl, Jelena Ostapenko – at 20, nearly a decade her junior – and the scenario was something the 2008 French Open champion said she could very much relate to.
It has been nearly six months since the six-foot Serb announced her retirement from competitive tennis, and emotions ran high for the photographers’ favourite who first picked up a racquet at the age of five after watching her compatriot, Monica Seles, on television, and went on to train during the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia on a tennis court created in an abandoned swimming pool.
“I promised myself I was not going to cry today,” Ivanovic told the crowd, after her career highlights played on the electronic scoreboards.
“There is a magical quality here which has always made me feel at home. Since 2008, when I won the title and became world No.1, I have had a personal and powerful bond with this ground. I stand here without a racquet but very excited, still dreaming about life like I first played here 12 years ago. It was my privilege to play here and to play a small part in the history of Roland-Garros.”
A Grand Slam always fosters a special relationship with a player who makes a stellar youthful breakthrough on their courts. Think Boris Becker at Wimbledon, Martina Hingis at the Australian Open, Tracy Austin, Pete Sampras and Serena Williams at the US Open. Roland-Garros, in particular, has a galaxy of teenage stars who made their bid for attention in the tennis hierarchy in the very skidmarks they left on the Parisian clay: Bjorn Borg, Mats Wilander, Michael Chang and Rafael Nadal on the men’s side; Steffi Graf, Arantxa Sanchez and Monica Seles on the women’s.
In 2005, it was Ana Ivanovic who stormed to the quarter finals at the age of 17, beating home favourite Amelie Mauresmo on the way. Two years later, she overcame Maria Sharapova in the semi-final to play her first Grand Slam final against Justine Henin. The following year she went one better, beating Dinara Safina to win and simultaneously claim the world No.1 spot.
"There is a magical quality here which has always made me feel at home"
It turned out that that 2008 Roland-Garros triumph was a watershed in Ivanovic’s career. How does it feel when she looks back on it now? “In one way, it feels like another lifetime," she said. "But in another way if feels like I was here, yesterday, playing and competing. So it's still a very "young" [memory], very emotional."
A thread of continuity is what perpetuates the living history that is a Grand Slam. Ivanovic’s four standout years here – quarter-finals in 2005; runner-up in 2007; champion in 2008; semi-finalist in 2015 – exist as their own bubble of excellence, but they also tie in to the legend of her idol Monica Seles, who won a hat-trick of titles in Paris in 1990, 1991 and 1992. "When I trained, I would think about Monica Seles winning Roland-Garros," she has always said.
Asked which player she would most like to have played against, she remains unequivocal: “I would love to have opportunity to play with Monica, of course. That's been my dream.”
As for her next project, Ivanovic - based in Illinois where her husband Bastian Schweinsteiger plays football for Chicago Fire - is keen to share the values and lessons learnt on a tennis world to a wider audience. “I want to create some content that will share what I have learnt in how to combine being healthy, being fit, and also handling stress - because not only do we go through stress and anxiety when we play, but also in everyday life people go through that, whether it's job, whether it's personal life. So I want to create some kind of content to share that with the people. I was really surprised when I went to America to see how welcome that idea was.”