Serbian star Ana Ivanovic has something different in her camp entering this year’s edition of the BNP Paribas Open: For the first time since turning pro in 2003, the former world No. 1 has an all-Serbian team.
“It’s the first time in my career that I have a Serbian team with me,” said Ivanovic, who had most recently worked with high-profile coach Nigel Sears before parting ways in July 2013.
Zlatko Novkovic, Ana’s trainer, has worked with her on and off for several years, and joined the team on a full-time basis in the summer of 2013. Her coach, Nemanja Kontic, played the juniors and briefly on the professional tour. Kontic has also represented Montenegro in Davis Cup.
“[A Serbian team] has its advantages and disadvantages. I enjoy working with them,” said the 2008 winner here. “I’ve known my fitness trainer and coach for a long time. They are good friends and I feel they understand me a little more because we have the same mentality. Without many words, we can understand each other.”
But what about the disadvantages?
“It’s again our mentality,” said Ivanovic, cracking a smile. “We are very combustible, we have short fuses.”
It must be a Serbian thing.
The relationship, which Ivanovic describes as “fiery” and “passionate,” gave the 26 year old a strong start to the season that saw her win a title in Brisbane and reach the quarterfinals at the Australian Open, her first appearance that deep into a Grand Slam since the US Open two years prior – and just second in four years.
At Indian Wells, Ivanovic’s Serbian entourage also includes her mother, who has traveled with her to the desert for the first time in three years.
“The family time is quite nice,” said the Belgrade native. “We’ve driven out to the shopping centers and sometimes we just sit by the pool.”
When the 2008 champion takes to the court for her next match Monday, she’ll find familiar faces in the crowds, too. Ever since that title run, a group of vocal fans cheer her on at every match, painting their chests, each with a letter spelling her name.
“It means a lot to me. I had huge support today,” Ivanovic said. “Those boys that come, they come every year – actually since 2007 or 2008, even. They have always been very supportive. I love competing here and they helped me get through today’s match.”
Her inner demons snuck in on Saturday, Ivanovic getting tight towards the end of her three-set encounter with a talented but younger Elina Svitolina. Ivanovic flashed her familiar fist pump when she finally pulled out the win, 4-6, 7-5, 7-6 (2).
Those are the kind of moments Ivanovic wants to be coming through on the better end of, and hopes to do so more and more often with her new crew in place.
”Matches like today are important, to get through the tough times,” said Ivanovic. “I want to get back into my rhythm. The win today is good. It gives me more confidence in my abilities.”
The focus – no matter who is in her corner – doesn’t change for Ana: It’s one match at a time.
“People are there to support me and they give me everything they can, but on the court you are alone and you have to believe in yourself,” said Ivanovic. “If you win or lose, it’s because of the team, but [the player] is the one who has to execute.”
The 2008 French Open champion faces 17th seed Sloane Stephens in the third round with hopes of making it one step closer to another title here, something she hasn’t done in five years.
“I do believe I can get back to the top level for consistent periods of time. I believe I can achieve it. Now I just want to show it on the court that I can.”