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Page last updated at 06:20 GMT, Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Ivanovic relishing life at the top

Ana Ivanovic
Ivanovic won her first Grand Slam title at this year's French Open

By Piers Newbery

This time last year there were those who believed that Ana Ivanovic was too nice to take the biggest prizes in tennis.

It was the same theory that dogged Kim Clijsters for much of her career until she finally made the breakthrough at the 2005 US Open after seven years of trying.

And like the Belgian, when Ivanovic tells you that she's naturally "more concerned about other people's feelings and what other people are saying", you believe her.

However the Serbian, who turns 21 on Thursday, managed to put the theory to bed with her stunning start to 2008.

Having to pull out of the Olympics was probably one of the hardest moments in my career so far

Ana Ivanovic
After reaching the Australian Open final in January, she took her first Grand Slam title at the French Open in June and with it the number one ranking.

"It was amazing because I achieved two of my biggest goals within a few days," Ivanovic tells BBC Sport ahead of the Tour Championships, which begin in Doha on Tuesday.

"I always dreamt about winning Grand Slams, that's something that's been my goal since I was a little child, and I also know that if you win a Grand Slam, rankings take care of themselves."

And unlike topping the rankings, winning a major title is surely better because you get to hold a trophy at the end of the day?

"Exactly!"

Early defeats at Wimbledon and the US Open and a debilitating thumb injury that ruled her out of the Olympics have taken the shine off the second half of 2008, but Ivanovic admits the pressure of being number one also took some getting used to.

Rather than turn to a sports psychologist she used her family and her coach to deal with the situation, but the outcome sounds like the result of some serious self-analysis.

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"It was kind of a new experience for me and to be honest I had to work on it because at the beginning it was a little bit hard to handle all of it," says the current world number four.

"I have a personality that I'm more concerned about other people's feelings and what other people are saying.

"So I took some time to work on that and actually the pressure I have comes from myself, from within, because I expect more from myself and want to achieve bigger things.

"Once you realise it comes from within, it's much easier to handle it because you have the power over it, to direct it in the way you want. Ever since I realised that I've been enjoying it much more."

Ivanovic has also found that being a world number one means every opponent raises their game.

"When I was coming up, I was a young girl with nothing to lose and played against top players so hungry to beat them," she said. "Now, it's kind of the opposite."

Jelena Jankovic of Serbia, Dinara Safina of Russia, Serena Williams of the United States, Ana Ivanovic of Serbia, Elena Dementieva of Russia, Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia, Venus William of the United States and Vera Zvonareva of Russia
Ivanovic takes centre stage as the best eight players in the world line up ahead of the Tour Championships in Doha

After Roland Garros the results dried up, largely due to the thumb injury that proved unexpectedly serious.

It forced Ivanovic to pull out of the Beijing Games and her emotional reaction gave the lie to suggestions that tennis players don't care about the Olympics.

"It's been so frustrating and very disappointing, and having to pull out of the Olympics was probably one of the hardest moments in my career so far," she says.

"I was really unfortunate with the injury when it came - it was the middle of the season and I had the number one position and a Grand Slam title behind me, and the injury just came when I was motivated to work even harder.

"It's been very tough and I had some very, very hard and disappointing days but I had lots of time also to think about things and you realise injuries are just part of the game."

Ivanovic has not had much time to think in recent weeks with tournaments in Tokyo, Beijing, Moscow, Zurich, Linz and now Doha, but she remains happy enough with the lifestyle.

"I love travelling, which is good considering what I do," she says.

The losses I had maybe a month ago were very disappointing and hard lessons

Ana Ivanovic
"Sometimes it gets too much and I get tired living out of a suitcase all the time but it's important to have a break and be with your family and relax for a few days.

"But at the end of the day, if I was having holidays for two or three weeks I'd start to miss tennis, so it's a good thing."

And does she see herself following the example of Lindsay Davenport and playing on into her thirties with a family?

"I'm not sure," she says.

"It's very hard to talk about it at this point but definitely at some stage I would like to have a family, and then I think it's very hard to come back when you have your own family. You want to spend time with your kids and husband."

For the moment her focus is very much on Doha, which for the first time hosts the end-of-season Tour Championships for the top eight players in the world.

Ivanovic lost to the now-retired Justine Henin in last year's semi-finals in Madrid, and the Belgian's departure left the Serb among a handful of players battling all year to be number one.

"It's an amazing feeling," said Ivanovic.

"With Justine retiring earlier this year it opened the number one spot and it's been so exciting ever since then.

"For women's tennis and for us it's very exciting and challenging. I think the Championships is going to be a great way to end the season."

And after going four months without reaching a final, victory in Linz last week suggested Ivanovic's form is returning just in time to challenge in Doha.

"When I started to feel healthy and compete again, I wanted to play at the high level I was at during the French Open," said Ivanovic.

"But it was impossible because I hadn't played for a month - I couldn't hold my racquet - so it was very tough to expect that from myself.

"The losses I had maybe a month ago were very disappointing and hard lessons but now I realise all I needed was a little bit more patience with myself to work my back into the game and competing, so I've been enjoying the last couple of weeks much more."

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