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Ana Ivanovic's lovely face is just right for a new currency. She is a Serbian citizen and a Swiss resident whose formative training in Basel was bankrolled by an Israeli-born Swiss entrepreneur. Her physical trainer is Australian and her current part-time coach is a Dutch consultant for a German sportswear giant.
In another clear sign that national borders have become subordinate to economic forces, Ivanovic will play Saturday's Roland Garros final against defending champion Justine Henin without the benefit of official coaching. Sven Groeneveld, who works with adidas-sponsored players who are without or between coaches, is prohibited from giving Ivanovic tactical advice when she plays another adidas athlete.
|Can Ana Ivanovic, who beat No. 2 Maria Sharapova in the semis, beat No. 1 Justine Henin in the final?|
Don't let those dimples fool you. Ivanovic is the hands-on CEO of her own growing little conglomerate, and her management style apparently includes an aversion to merging the personal with the professional.
"Before, I had a couple of experience(s) when I spent too much time with a coach, and I didn't find it worked well for me," Ivanovic, who parted with her last full-time coach, Australian David Taylor, last January, said Friday. "And it's important to have my own space, and also, a little bit of my private life. And I think a relationship with a coach, it's very important to don't get too personal.
"I really trust [Groeneveld] and he trusts in me, so that's why it's working very well for us that's also the way I can learn the most how to deal. Because in the end of the day, when I'm on the court, I'm alone. And I have to learn how to deal with the emotions then."
That sound you hear in the background is several generations of female athletes giving Ivanovic a standing ovation.
Mentoring in the women's game isn't all dysfunctional or doomed, but long-term happiness is rare. Henin and her coach of many years, Carlos Rodriguez, are the exception.
Groeneveld, who has worked with a long list of prominent players including Monica Seles, Mary Pierce, Tommy Haas and Michael Stich, also deserves some credit for this winning formula. It takes a certain kind of ego to accept being kept at arm's length.
"What makes her so sweet but so tough [is that] she knows what she wants," Groeneveld said of Ivanovic this week. "That makes it simple. And I encourage that. She gives herself the best chance to win matches.
"Ana is in charge. She's the one who communicates with her whole team. Great players are strong personalities. They need people more who support them, not tell them what to do."
Ivanovic's parents waved off reporters who charged into the players' lounge to get the up-close-and-personal view moments after she clobbered Maria Sharapova in the semifinal.
Instead, it was left to Dan Holzmann, Ivanovic's financial patron during her formative years and now her business manager, to describe what she was like when she came to his home in Basel for a two-hour meeting when she was 14. He saw a driven, talented young athlete who also had the personality and looks to nudge any other princess from the marketing "throne," as he put it.
"Nice, humble, modest, very shy," said Holzmann, who estimated he spent more than half a million dollars over five years to fund Ivanovic's training in Basel and travel for her mother. "And she works so hard," Holzmann said. "She'd throw up on the court. I have seen her turning white."
Ivanovic was grateful, to a fault, for some smaller favors. Holzmann said she was overcome once when he gave her $100 in pocket money, and never used it.
Perhaps this isn't so surprising when you consider that some of Ivanovic's first practices in Belgrade took place in an empty swimming pool with a carpet covering the bottom.
"It was impossible to play crosscourt, because it was this far from the wall," Ivanovic said, indicating a tight space. "So we had to keep playing down the lines. And that was the courts we had during the winter."
Thus hemmed in as a kid, Ivanovic has evolved into a young woman who wants room to grow. Now that she has her own resources to draw on, she unapologetically cherry-picks the help she needs to be the best, hiring, firing, borrowing and buying as she chooses. Right now, it seems savvy rather than capricious.
Before winning the Berlin title last month, she spent some time at the Sanchez-Casal academy in Barcelona. She has had a full-time physical trainer, Aussie Scott Burns, for the last nine or 10 months.
Yet Groeneveld was quick to remind reporters that she is still a work in progress.
"Through time, she'll mature," he said. "She will face ups and downs. Right now people will help her get up, next time they might take her down. Let's see how she comes out of it."
Friday, on the eve of the most important match of her career, Ivanovic underscored her recent arrival when she was asked what ranked as her biggest previous milestone. "Probably yesterday," she said, referring to her semifinal win.
Who else could accessorize her tennis outfit with pearl earrings and black ankle braces and somehow make it all work? This self-possessed young woman represents not only a new, hungry nation on the tennis scene but a fresh approach that combines a model's looks with a personalized business model.
Bonnie DeSimone is a freelancer who is covering the French Open for ESPN.com.