Ana Ivanovic was to avoid crashing into the walls of an empty Belgrade swimming pool where she played tennis at 5. Now, she plans to reach the No. 1 ranking.
The 19-year-old is the youngest of a Serbian trio - including Jelena Jankovic and Novak Djokovic - who are ranked in the top 10 and excelled at the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.
"My career, especially the last couple of months, has been amazing," Ivanovic said in an interview with The Associated Press. "I got a lot of confidence beating a lot of top players, this is the best time of my career so far."
Ivanovic is the first Serbian woman to reach a Grand Slam final at Roland Garros since Monica Seles - who became a U.S. citizen at the peak of her career in the 1990s. At Wimbledon, Ivanovic lost to eventual champion Venus Williams in the semifinals.
She matched her previous top U.S. Open performance by reaching the quarterfinals, where she again lost to Venus Williams.
"My goal is to be No. 1 and to win Grand Slams," Ivanovic said. "There are many other players who want the same thing, but I'm on a good way to achieve it."
Ivanovic, ranked No. 6, won in Berlin and Los Angeles this year. She has four career titles and earnings of US$2.7 million.
Ivanovic got her first taste of indoor tennis as a youngster at a New Belgrade neighborhood. A sports club official drained an Olympic-size swimming pool in the winter and put down a green carpet and net.
Ivanovic said practicing there, with the pool walls near from the sidelines, helped her produce consistent down-the-line shots.
"It sure helped because the walls were so very close to the court that we couldn't play crosscourts," Ivanovic said. "We agreed not to serve and play toward the walls because that would be a finished point. We agreed to serve to the open court so we could at least play a rally."
Growing up in war-ravaged Serbia, she traveled six hours by bus to neighboring Hungary because it was impossible to get a visa out of Serbia for tournaments abroad.
Djokovic, a childhood friend of Ivanovic's, also practiced at the same club. He reached the U.S. Open final this month and lost to top-ranked Roger Federer. The 20-year-old Djokovic is ranked No. 3 after winning four titles this year.
The 22-year-old Jankovic, who reached the U.S. Open semifinals and is ranked No. 3, has won four of her five career titles this season.
So what makes the Serbs so strong?
"It is very difficult to find a reason for that," Ivanovic said. "It's just circumstances that all three of us came out at the same time. Maybe one of the reasons was that when one started doing good, it motivated the others to be even better. We kind of pulled each other on the way up."
Ivanovic said she is coping with the fame that comes with moving into the top 10.
"Women's tennis is turning to fashion and is involving celebrities," Ivanovic said. "When people talk about my charm or looks it is very flattering. Of course, every woman likes compliments, but I don't take them too seriously."
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