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Ivanovic recalls the tough times ahead of Open final

sports Updated: Jan 25, 2008 13:45 IST

Australian Open finalist Ana Ivanovic on Friday recalled her tough early years learning tennis in an empty swimming pool in war-torn Serbia as she prepared for the biggest match of her career.

The 20-year-old fourth seed said the opportunity to play in a Grand Slam decider was the reason she took up tennis as a child at a time when Belgrade was the target of NATO bombing raids.

"Since I was a kid, training in Belgrade with my old coach Dejan Vranes, I dreamed about occasions like tomorrow, when I get the chance to play a Grand Slam final," she said in a daily column for Melbourne's Age newspaper.

"I am often asked about my tennis training when I was younger because it's quite an unusual story -- I practiced in an empty swimming pool.

"Looking back, it's hard to imagine that we did that.

"But at the time we didn't know any different, there were so few courts in the city and this one was close to my house.

"I enjoyed playing there so much, I never once thought the facilities were bad."

Ivanovic also revealed her mother Dragana was her closest friend on tour and she would be following her mum's advice in the final against Russian fifth seed Maria Sharapova.

"Every time I go on the court, she says, 'just enjoy, try to play your own game," Ivanovic told reporters.

"She hates to see me getting upset, hitting my racquet. But now I'm controlling that a little bit better. So she just says, 'be happy'."

The Serb said having her lawyer mother with her helped her cope with the difficulty of being on the road for much of the year.

"It's like mother, daughter and friend, because she's like my best friend, too," she said.

"It's so important to have her on the road with me because if she wasn't with me, it would be much harder.

"It's hard enough already being so much away from the rest of my family.

"So, whenever I go back (to the hotel), I have someone to talk to, not only in my mother language, but also to ask for advice.

"Who can give you more honest advice than your mum?

"It's such a great thing to have her there. She's also my biggest supporter, she never really, you know, beats me up or gets upset on me.

"So it's great because I feel like she understands me."