With the start of the U.S. Open today, I am hereby declaring it National Ana Ivanovic day. I'm sure the government won't sanction it because she's not an American citizen, but so what?
The fifth-ranked tennis beauty is playing Aiko Nakamura today in Louis Armstrong Stadium. All day on CNBC, you'll see the awesome story of Ivanovic, who could be the next force in the sports marketing world if she wins the final grand slam of the year.
Before we get started, let's remind you that we put up a poll on Friday that asked you who was the world's sexiest tennis player. More than 850 votes later, let's call that a significant mass, Ivanovic trounced Sharapova by a 9-to-1 margin. If you need to decide for yourself, we present you with our little Ivanovic slide show we put together for your convenience.
As I was saying we have this piece on Ivanovic, running all day. It first ran this morning on "Squawk Box." (see video clip)
Last week, we sat down with Ivanovic and her agent Dan Holzmann to talk about their incredible story. In part one of today's blog, we'll take you through the highlights of our interview with Ms. Ivanovic.
Me: Tell me how you got started in tennis?
Ana: I started playing tennis when I was five and before that I watched it on TV. I really enjoyed Monica Seles playing because she was born in Serbia so they showed her matches and in between there was commercial for tennis school. So I forced my parents to call and then for my fifth birthday my father bought me a small tennis racket and a month later I started playing tennis.
Me: So you actually memorized the number or had written it down?
Ana: Yes, exactly I memorized and I wrote it down. I was always telling my mom please call please call I want to play.
Me: You were in Serbia during the NATO bombings. What was it like?
Ana: It was tough times. The nineties were not the best years. There was one war in 1991 which I can't really remember I was only four years old. Then, in 1999, we had a bombing. It was hard. That was just when I started practicing much more and for first time I got a better coach so that was exciting times. I wanted to practice, but because of bombings I couldn't. But after a few weeks we started practicing in the early mornings, which was not so dangerous, and then we just tried to live as normal as possible because tennis was also a way out for us so we don't think about what's happening around us, just enjoy the game.
Me: So you'd plan the practice around the bombings?
Ana: We would practice from seven to nine in the morning and then do some fitness later because around lunchtime up all day and all night it was dangerous. We had to stay at home basically, people didn't work, kids didn't go to school, so we spent some time hanging with friends. For us kids it wasn't so bad.
Me: I've heard that you played in a swimming pool.
Ana: Yes, we practiced in a swimming pool. It's hard to imagine isn't it? It's a big sports center and it was indoor swimming pool, but it was so expensive to heat it during the winter so they decided to empty the water and they put a carpet inside and they placed two single courts in there. It was so close to the wall we couldn't really play cross court, but I guess that was the only option we had to practice and we appreciated it. So the first time I went abroad and I saw this great center and great clubs with so many indoor courts I was like, "Wow, this really exists."
Me: Tell me about your meeting with your agent Dan Holzmann and what led to that point?
Ana: It's actually very interesting because we met over a friend. My coach had a very good friend who was working in Switzerland, so he was helping me out a little bit. He was paying some of my expenses and then he met Dan in this tennis club and he said, "Oh, I have this young girl, she's talented and you may want to meet her" and that's how Dan invited us to go to Switzerland and meet each other. We signed the contract and that's how we start working. But I'm really lucky to have someone like him because it's not typical manager/player relationship. It's like friends because it's not a big company and I'm his only player so it's great to have that because these days there is so many big companies who manage lots of players.
Me: What was that meeting like?
Ana: It was very exciting he invited us in Basel– we went to a couple dinners, we just talked and he saw me practice a couple times. We decided to sign a contract and then after that I wanted to prove that I'm good. So the first few tournaments I was so nervous I remember the first time he came to watch me I was terrible. I couldn't play I was so nervous because I wanted to impress him. But then he helped me a lot to get through this and later on I tried to go back and be focused on my game and I got some good results so it was great for both of us I think.
Me: I heard you cried at your first tournament with him watching?
Ana: Yes. It was hard in Serbia to get any deals, so it was a great opportunity for me. After I lost the match I was in the locker room and didn't want to talk to anyone for the whole day. I was alone trying to get something good out of it, but couldn't find anything.
Ana: I come from Serbia ad I know there are many talented athletes there and it was hard for them to break through because they didn't have financial support. So I was really lucky to have someone like Dan. I don't know if I would manage to do this without him or even if I would it would probably take much longer.
Me: You've risen to the top--fifth in the world pretty quickly--what has that been like?
Ana: Well, the last few months have been the most exciting months of my life so far. It changed a lot. I can notice when I'm practicing there is more people watching me practice and it's great because I feel like I did something good so people know me. That motivates to work harder and achieve even higher goals. At the moment I'm really enjoying where I'm at because this is the highest I've been ranked in my career and the best game I have so far.
Me: Things have changed. I bet after a finals and semifinals appearance in two straight grand slams people really know who you are now.
Ana: It happens to be more often people stop me on the street outside of Serbia because in Serbia we were always very popular especially now that tennis is one of the major sports. But also lately even in America or in London they stop me in the street.
Me: What about your web site? How do you feel about being an internet sensation?
Ana: It's great to have your own web site. When I was a kid, I was like "Wow, these people have web sites, how does that work?" And now I have my own. It's really my manager and my agent who helps me to keep it up they're doing a great job.
Me: People say you're marketable, companies want to sign you not only because of your game, but because of your beauty, how do you feel about that?
Ana: I'm definitely flattered. Every woman likes to hear compliments, but I don't take it very seriously because I know they know me because of my tennis and how I perform on the court. So tennis is definitely the number one priority in my life. It's exciting to do something different like photo shoots and interviews.
Me: You already have an endorsement with Juice Plus (Dan's product), Wilson and Adidas--as well as a new deal with Verano Motors--in which category do you next want to have an endorsement?
Ana: I really like cosmetics. What girl doesn't? Then there's watches and jewelry. It's every girls dream to have lots of makeup an jewelry.
The interview with Dan Holzmann, Ana's backer and agent, will follow later in the day. (Check that: I'll post his interview on Tuesday).
Questions? Comments? SportsBiz@cnbc.com