You talk about teamwork, but don’t all the other female players hate you? You’re better than them and hot!
But that’s what women’s tennis has always been like. Female players have big egos. We get jealous easily and we’re very competitive by nature. So yes, it’s very hard for us to sit together. Men’s tennis is completely different. Those guys hang out with each other, train together and practise together. But either way, I’m still living my dream at the moment.
So how do you rate players like Maria Sharapova (ranked second) and Serena (sixth) and Venus Williams (seventh)? You could kick their arses, right?
According to the rankings I am better than them, but they’re all great players. Although Maria and I have only had a few games together so far and we’re even: two to her, two to me. Serena I played once – she won. And Venus, it’s three to her, one to me. But the Williams sisters are extremely good. They’ve changed the game, certainly.
Anna Kournikova was crap, right?
Anna Kournikova had talent, but she was of a different time. She just never won a title, had some injuries, then quit tennis at a very young age to start modelling and appear in adverts. That’s something I’d never do. Tennis is my priority.
But you clearly enjoyed modelling for our shoot…
Modelling was great fun, and it’s great to do something different, especially when you spend so many hours of your life on a tennis court. But generally speaking, I’m a tennis player first.
You must get sex-pested by men constantly…
It’s always flattering when you get compliments from men. All women love it. It’s just that with all the travelling I do with my job – I’ve played six tournaments so far this year – it’s hard to have a proper boyfriend. Plus I’m only 20, and I know the men who contact me asking to marry me don’t mean anything by it. The only thing that gets to me is when male supporters in the crowd shout, “Don’t be nervous, Ana!” Because I am nervous, and it makes me feel even more anxious about the next shot. But, to a degree, without their attention I wouldn’t be talking to FHM now.
What kind of guys do you go for?
There’s two types: I prefer either the classic ‘tall with dark hair’ look, a bit like George Clooney. Or men who look like that main guy from Prison Break. I’m addicted to both that show and Lost. And I love a man that’s funny…
Okay, so two peanuts are walking down the road – one was assaulted. Huh? ‘A salted’. Get it? THIS GUY!
[Uneasy silence. Ana stares at her shoes]
Okaaay. So anyway, apart from telling jokes based on puns, what else do guys chatting you up get wrong?
I’m not really a fan of cheesy lines. And if a guy gets too pushy, it puts me off. I think one of the worst things a man can do is ask for my phone number and then keep texting and calling me. Sometimes it can be too much.
Do you ever feel self-conscious about making loud groans on the court in the knowledge that it turns men on?
Ha! No, I never really think about it like that. Often it’s the only way you can let out a huge amount of pressure you’re feeling in the middle of a match. Actually, making loud groans really helps because you’re breathing through the shot, which makes summoning all that power easier.
You’ve made a fortune over the last few years. Isn’t there just a massive temptation to go out and party the whole time?
The thing is – and this might make me sound like a… how do you say?… ‘party-pooper’? But I don’t really drink. I mean, I’ll have a glass of red wine or an occasional margarita. But I’ve never been properly drunk. Plus, I love dancing, but I’m hopeless at it. Which is why I also love a man who can dance. Because most of the time, I’m so bad I just dance the salsa and do the tango in my bedroom by myself. In fact, I’m so bad at dancing that my friends say: “Ana, look – maybe you should just stick to tennis, okay?”
Have you always been so uncoordinated?
It’s funny. When I first started playing tennis, my parents never imagined I’d become a professional. As I child, I was pigeon-footed and very unathletic. But when I was five, I saw an advert for a local tennis school on TV and remembered the phone number by heart. My dad bought me a little tennis racket because they both presumed it was just something fun for me to do. At the time, tennis wasn’t very popular in Serbia. Then, when I was ten, there was the war and money conditions were tight – my parents began struggling to pay for my tennis rackets. But they supported my dream to get to the top constantly.
Wasn’t it dangerous practising out in the open with bullets flying everywhere?
My parents did a good job protecting me and my brother, and never fully explained the full scale of what was going on. So without any knowledge or grasp of the real political situation my country was in, I was just another child rejoicing at the fact we didn’t have school that day. It was only when the bombs started dropping that things started getting scary. So in the morning between seven and nine we’d practice in an empty, abandoned Olympic swimming pool and set up two makeshift courts. There wasn’t much room because of the narrow width of the walls, but I hear kids still practice in that pool to this day.
Has that period made it harder for you to accept your occasional losses on court?
It’s always tough and I admit I’m a very bad loser. I try not to take defeat so personally, but often I’ll just go home and cry. But the next day it makes you want to work even harder at your game to correct those mistakes.
The average female tennis player hits her peak at 25. Does that mean we’re going to see some blinding tennis from you over the next few years?
I know I’ve got the motivation and the potential. And I’m nearly there – I’m already in the position of my dreams. It’s going to be tough, and I may get some injuries on the way. But I’m determined.
I know that one day I will be the greatest female tennis player in the world.
Original interview by Ben Wilson in the August 2008 issue of FHM UK magazine