The most important match of Ana Ivanovic’s career came, of course, in 2008. After spending many years on the circuit battling fatigue, jet lag, relentless critiques, grueling workouts and challenges from superstars such as Maria Sharapova and Venus Williams, Ivanovic, with her powerful forehand and weaponized serve, won the French Open in Paris to become the no. 1 female player in the world.
Among those cheering for her Grand Slam victory was her devoted family: her mom Dragana, dad Miroslav and brother Milos.
This match finally put her in the pantheon of the great tennis players of all time. It meant an avalanche of endorsements (including Adidas and Rolex), a ranking she will treasure forever and proof that all her years of sacrifice and hard work had paid off.
She recalls another. match as a favorite – and for her brother too. In 2007, she competed in Stuttgart, Germany with a brand-new Porsche as the prize. “I told Milos that if I won, the car would be his,” says Ivanovic. The six-foot svelte Serbian beauty pounded away at the ball and beat player after player, rising to the finals. In a heart-stopping moment, Ivanovic lost the match. As a finalist, she received a nice paycheck but no Porsche.
Ivanovic, who is both passionate and patient, told her brother, “Wait until next year.” The following year, which turned out to be one where the stars, the moon and the sun aligned to create a streak of memorable victories, Ivanovic arrived in Stuttgart confident and determined. Like dominos, the players fell under a torrent of her forehand precision and 123 mph serve. This time she got not only the paycheck but also a sleek maroon Porsche sports car that she promptly gave to her beloved brother.
“That was a sweet moment,” Ivanovic remembers with a laugh. “My family has been so supportive of me.”
INDEED THEY HAVE
Inspired by watching fellow Yugoslav Monica Seles on television, Ivanovic started playing tennis at five years old. But tennis courts in Yugoslavia were not plentiful, forcing her to train once in an abandoned swimming pool. She continued playing, even though this meant navigating schedules and threats to avoid NATO bombings of Yugoslavia during the war.
At 13 years old, her mother Dragana, then a lawyer, made a family decision. Daughter and mother would relocate to Basel, Switzerland for better training. Dan Holzman, who recruited her, gave them housing until they settled in, and he has remained her manager to this day. Miroslav and Milos stayed in Serbia so her brother could pursue his own life and studies.
When Ivanovic turned pro is 2003, she and her mother traveled around the globe months at a time, building her tennis resume and accumulating victories. Tokyo. Moscow. Australia. London. New York. Far less glamorous spots, too. Ivanovic is quick to point out that her parents were not profiting from her tennis but supporting their child. “They saw the passion,” she says. “While everyone said I was talented, we had no idea where it would take me. I followed it step by step.”
Sometimes that meant stepping into some scary situations, especially a tournament trip near the Russian Black Sea and other stops to underdeveloped countries where it was unusual for two women to be on their own.
“My mother became my best friend,” says Ivanovic.
She realizes how lucky she was to have such an anchor as her parents, for several reasons.
“Coming from Serbia, you don’t have the support of government or any programs,” she notes. “You have to find your way through tough times and figuring out all the tournaments. It’s not only talent but hard work and mental strength to handle all that.”
Furthermore, she says, when you become successful, leeches come from the sidelines wanting to exploit you personally or financially. “It’s not easy to be a young girl of 14 or 15 and people want to join the ride,” she admits. “Naturally, you are inexperienced. My mother both supported me and protected me. That meant so much.”
SOMETHING ELSE SHE REALIZES
At this moment, Ivanovic is a newlywed in love with her superstar soccer-playing husband, Bastian Schweinsteiger, a mem- ber of the Chicago Fire. “Instead of living out of a suitcase, I have my first apartment,” she says enthusiastically.
They met in 2014 through mutual friends, and the attraction was instant. In July 2016, they married in one of the most romantic places on earth, Venice, the site where George and Amal Clooney also exchanged vows. Unlike the Clooneys, though, paparazzi didn’t pursue them (one reason she appreciates Chicago), and their idyllic wedding was filled with friends, family and the steady hum of vaporettos crisscrossing ancient lagoons with light shimmering o the Adriatic.
Now the idea of being away from Basti — as the World Cup winning mid-fielder is called — fills her with dread. “Being married, I appreciate even more what my mother did,” she says wistfully. “I was a young girl doing what I love. Being apart from her husband and son must have been so hard, and she never showed it. I see what my family sacrificed and the choices they made.”
With pleasure, she has helped her family in many ways, providing a beautiful apartment in Serbia for her parents and helping finance Milos’ British education. Milos, now an entrepreneur like his father, also lives in Belgrade, where the family has “roots and friends.”
Although she has traveled around the globe, she feels Chicago is a truly special place. It will be where she got her first home with her husband, where she can finally experience normalcy.
“I wake up without a schedule and love going to my local coffee shop and sharing this time with my husband,” she says. “I love my Jo Malone English pear candles. I love waking up in the same bed and not living out of a suitcase.” It is here that she has what she calls “a home feeling.”
She’s learning to cook too, perfecting a grilled chicken and sweet potato dish, as well as zucchini noodles.
Having experienced a tennis lull from 2010 to 2014 and then resurrected her career, Ivanovic was battling knee injuries and, as the French say, a crises de coeur, when she realized the excellence she demands of herself wasn’t so attainable.
The 29-year-old champion decided to retire last December, a “diffcult” decision.” The strain of being apart from friends and her husband also contributed to her early retirement.
Besides, she had already won 15 WTA Tour single titles, a Time magazine citation as one of the “30 Legends of Women’s Tennis” and prize money in excess of $15 million.
For now, she’s enjoying leisurely strolling through Chicago’s legendary stores and “developing ” her personal style in home furnishings. She loves her cozy ivory comforter and sheets.
“We are both very organized and very clean,” says Ivanovic of her and her husband. “We like having a nice modern decoration with a simple color scheme.”
For a recent Instagram, she shared the thrill of riding a bike along the water against the magnificent Chicago skyline. Both she and Basti are seen cheering other Chicago teams at sports events.
Other simple but meaningful pleasures include going to a yoga class at any time of the day and having a casual lunch with a friend without worrying about the clock.
Like other newlyweds, they also are relishing the “amazing restaurants,” such as Prime Steakhouse. A recent Instagram post from Basti declared, “Had a great dinner with my beautiful wife.” And of course she loves being a sports spectator and cheering on her husband.
“I have other business projects I want to explore and will give back with my charity work,” she says, citing UNICEF and aiding a Serbian anti-violence program, among others. “I just want to feel the beauty of life.”
AND THAT SHE IS
Plus her “statuesque beauty,” says Ann Liguori, Golf & Tennis Correspondent for CBS Sports Radio Network, “contributed to her appeal on Madison Avenue” and will likely continue.
“I think her Twitter following — more than one million people — is more important than her forehand in these cases,” adds Barbara Lippert, an advertising expert.
So now when Ivanovic hears the words “love” and “match,” it can be less about tennis and more about her romance with her husband Basti and the city of Chicago.