Ana Ivanovic on pressure, parenting and besting husband Bastian Schweinsteiger  

In a wide-ranging interview for the Olympic Channel Podcast, the former world number one opened up on loving life as a mother and why she was right to bow out from elite tennis when she did. 

By Chloe Merrell and Ash Tulloch
Picture by 2017 Getty Images

A day in the life of former tennis superstar Ana Ivanovic is not for the feint-hearted.  

Between caring for her two young sons, work, and travel, the Serbian remains as busy as ever.

Ivanovic first announced her retirement back in 2016, eight years after she captured the French Open title at just 20 years old, propelling her career to all its all-time-high.  

Her conquest on the iconic, dark red clays of Paris is a cherished memory, one Ivanovic admits still packs a lot of emotion. But nowadays she’s focused more on enjoying the “precious moments” in front of her, courtesy of her children. 

“It’s so hard to believe it’s already been five years since I retired,” says the Serbian to the Olympics Channel Podcast. “Most of my days are now kind of consumed by my two little boys that I have. I love spending time with them. It’s really special watching them grow up so quickly.”

Though tennis is well-known for the longevity of some of its biggest stars, ending her own career at the age of 29 is not something the Australian Open finalist expresses any regret about. She speaks almost philosophically about discovering a calling to do something different with her life.

And while her competitive playing days are firmly behind her, she does admit the craft she spent hours honing comes in useful every now and again particularly she needs to meet the demands of caring for two children under the age five:

“Being a mother has, of course, its beauties, but it also has its challenges," explains the tennis star. “For four years I didn’t really sleep. There are so many moments when you are just really exhausted and you are talking the edge of survival, and you’re like, how do I do it? How can a little human make three, or two, or four adults super tired?

“But then you really pull from that, what you had in the past, and how you pulled through tough moments and long matches and exhaustion and so on.

“Of course, you don’t have the same stress like you had when you played. It’s very much like one smile and your world melts. It’s definitely beautiful, but it has its challenges, of course.”

Ana Ivanovic won her first and only major title at Roland Garros in 2008
Picture by 2008 Getty Images

Holding Bastian Schweinsteiger to love

In the summer of 2016 Ivanovic married German football superstar Bastian Schweinsteiger in a romantic ceremony on the canals of Venice shortly after his country bowed out of the Euros at the semi-final stage.

With their remarkable achievements combined, the two together are undeniably one of sport’s greatest power couples - but the tennis star says that her sons, aged four and two, have no idea who their parents are.

“We really don’t talk to them about it at all and we want to keep it like that for as long as we can really. We just want them to have their own choices and their own passions. That’s why we keep them quite private; we want them to discover who they are.”

Though the children might not yet understands their parents' reputations, neither retired athlete has quite been able to keep their competitive streaks hidden – especially when they take to the court.

Ivanovic admits that when she has picked up a racquet in recent times it’s more often than not to play against her husband who, she says, is desperate to claim points off her:

“He’s very competitive and he’s still trying super hard,” Ivanovic shares through smiles and laughter.

“We play every game that he gets 30-love and he can maybe manage to get a game or two but I sometimes make him work hard for points and sometimes let him win a game when he deserves it.”

It sounds like the FIFA World Cup winner may need to work on his serve and volley...

Schweinsteiger and Ivanovic have been married since 2016
Picture by 2022 Getty Images

Ana Ivanovic: “there is a lot more pressure on women to perform”

When it comes to those currently on the women’s tour there is no shortage of players that impress Ivanovic, who herself spent 12 weeks on top of the women’s rankings.

Paul Badosa, Maria Sakkari, Ons Jabeur and current world number one Iga Swiatek are all names that have captured her imagination.

“I really like her style of game, it reminds me a little bit of my game,” Ivanovic said of the Pole. “Especially when I saw her win Roland Garros in 2020. She really likes to run around her forehand; she has a really interesting game.”

Swiatek famously took on the mantle as the top women’s player in the world after Ash Barty shockingly revealed she would be stepping back from the sport.

The Australian shared that, as well as having achieved her goals, she was done with the physical toll the sport had taken on her declaring that she was “spent.”

On Barty’s decision to end her career at just 25 years old Ivanovic is particularly understanding; such decisions are immensely personal and are always made with good cause, she explains.

Certainly, for the Serb looking on there can be little doubt that female players are under more scrutiny now than they have ever been before, meaning decisions like Barty could be more commonplace in years to come:

“There is so much, strangely, but there is, a lot more pressure on women to perform, to be constantly on top,” explains Ivanovic. “Osaka, she’s talked a lot about mental struggles and mental pressures she has and everyone has that, I think. It’s just how everyone handles it. And it’s not always nice, it’s not always easy.

“During times in my career, sometimes it was very hard because I was very much focused on the external, on results, on what people think and so on. And then you realise that actually that’s not what matters, it’s what comes from inside. I think the mental part of the game, it’s becoming so much more important than it ever was.

"What upsets me, I remember, was that many times, people actually didn’t really know what was going on behind the scenes because people just see the tip of the iceberg. Everything else is what we do off court. It’s what we do in a preseason, what we do in training weeks, what we do before matches and no one sees that and why would I want to talk about all these details? I don’t, well, me personally.

“People make judgements according to what they see, which is not – well, most of the time – the full story. It can get really hard for players to get over it, because they know the truth is different."

During her career Ivanovic competed in two Olympics making into the third round in London
Picture by 2016 Getty Images

Staying authentic no matter what

With the benefit of hindsight, distance and time, Ivanovic now understands how to navigate pressure.

"It’s what you do with it and how you react to it,” she explains. “For me personally, this is something I learnt maybe a little too late.

“Follow your heart, because if you do things for others, it will not make you fulfilled. If you do things for yourself, even if you make mistakes, it’s your own and you have to own it.”

Her outlook, to reflect inwards and centre things around the self, seems a natural step for a player who was renowned for her shyness in an era dominated by power players and big personalities. It also reflects her wider ambition to be as authentic a person as possible.

“I want people to see me for who I am. I’m not hiding anything, and I’m also quite shy and I’m quite private. That’s just who I am.

“This is one thing also that I have learnt: it can’t be that everyone likes you or what you do. This is a very important thing to learn.”

Ivanovic believes that the top women's tennis players are under more pressure than ever before
Picture by 2016 Getty Images

Ivanovic tips French Open 2022 contenders

14 may years have passed since Ivanovic shot to tennis glory in Paris but even that doesn't making picking this year's title winners any easier.

In the women's draw the former tennis ace was quick to single out 2020 champion Swiatek for the crown but also has her eye on one of the game's rising stars - Jabeur:

"I'm really interested to see how Iga will go this year. And I must say, after watching Ons in Madrid, I think it will be really, really interesting because she has a very unusual game and I think this is super nice to see.

As for the men's singles competition there was only one name on Ivanovic's lips:

"Carlos Alcaraz. I think he's done really amazing in the last few weeks and I'm really interested in how he will do."

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