Tennis is a jealous lover. It demands all of your attention and energies. Its spotlight will not be shared. It demands exclusivity. Sure you can flirt with it for a while, even engage in the occasional hook-up, but the minute you decide to go pro, tennis demands that you forsake all others and focus only on her.
The irony of this professional sport is that there are fewer distractions at the bottom rungs of the ascent. Ask any bottom feeder or players hanging out in the netherworld of rankings in the 900’s and you will discover that they rarely ever attract free gear. Most of their expenses either come of their pockets or from the pockets of wealthy benefactors who believe in their talent. And the latter is true only for the rare handful. Most bottom feeders grind out a lonely existence, persisting only because they love this sport and because they know that once they get that breakthrough, life can suddenly become very sweet.
But closer to the top of the rankings, distractions abound. It’s almost as if the sport needs to test your commitment to her, and the seriousness with which you are willing to engage her. And so players near the top suddenly find themselves attracting modeling contracts and opportunities to shill products for a variety of companies. Maria Sharapova has reportedly made far more money from product shilling than from tennis. Such lucrative opportunities are only available at the zenith. But so too are many tempting distractions.
And this is what appears to have happened to Ana Ivanovic. She has become distracted. For a start, Ana is very pretty girl. She photographs well. She has a sexy body. Put all this together with a # 1 ranking and the sky was suddenly the limit. Ana found herself striding the catwalk, doing photo shoots for calendars, sporting and fashion magazines, and shilling for her many sponsors, all in between make-out sessions with handsome new beau, Fernando Verdasco.
But tennis is a jealous lover. Not just jealous, but possessive as hell. She demands exclusivity. And the player who for a moment forgets this, finds herself on the losing end of the early round of a tournament she has every right to win. Winning the Australian Open would have propelled Ana back into the #1 slot she captured in Paris, France. Now she is out of Melbourne, sent packing by Russian teenager Alisa Kleybanova, ranked 29.
Tennis is a vengeful lover. She demands your undivided attention.
For many players near the top, it quite simply becomes difficult to serve two masters. Just ask Serena. Remember the phase when she felt that she could dedicate herself to acting and play a little tennis on the side? When last I checked, the bulk of her Imdb profile involved appearances as “herself”. And throughout that delusional phase, her tennis suffered and her ranking plummeted. Heck, for a moment there in Australia, it seriously looked as if she was going to lose to Gisela Dulko.
It might be easier if tennis wasn’t so damn demanding. But it is. Getting to the top requires a brutal level of commitment to a fitness regimen. Ask Andy Murray. He consulted with the best, picking the brains of scouts like Brad Gilbert and trainer-philosophers like Gil Reyes, as he dedicated himself single-mindedly to one goal -- becoming the very best. He has earned almost 1,000 points in a few short months. He has eclipsed Djokovic as the one to beat in Australia. And he could not have achieved all of this had he allowed himself to become distracted from his goal.
I think that it is too bad that Ana Ivanovic has allowed herself to become distracted. As one of the prettiest and most photogenic women on the tour, I can understand how hard it must be for her to resist the camera and focus on her tennis. Almost daily a new batch of photos of Ana emerges, posing in silken gowns or smiling with a new Rolex on her wrist. And part of me is happy for her that she is making money and striking while she remains a blazing hot commodity. But mostly I miss seeing her play.
Ivanovic is a very talented tennis player who deserves to be #1. She needs to seriously decide which of these two masters she is going to dedicate herself to -- tennis or modeling. Because, at the end of the day, tennis is a jealous lover. It doesn’t share.
(photos remain courtesy www.anaivanovic.com and FHM)