Welcome to this brand new series on the official National Bank Open presented by Rogers website. Our events in Toronto and Montréal have hosted the world’s best players year after year, with some of the biggest names taking home the title.
In our Champions’ Corner series, we’ll interview some of our past winners about their memories of their run to the trophy in Canada and find out what they’ve been up to since winning. The series is available to National Bank Open Insider subscribers a week before everyone else, so sign up for our newsletter to be among the first to read it.
Ana Ivanovic is one of the biggest names in the recent history of women’s tennis. The winner of 15 WTA titles, including the 2008 French Open crown that pushed her to the very top of the rankings, she impressed us all throughout her illustrious career, which she brought to an end in 2015.
Ana may have been the talk of tennis for several years, but few people remember that the Serbian star’s ascent actually began in one city in particular—none other than Montréal. In 2006, the 18-year-old was relatively unknown despite her World No.19 ranking and took everyone by surprise when she overpowered the Can’t-Miss-Swiss Martina Hingis to raise the National Bank Open championship trophy.
“That was a very special event for me because, in a way, it was what set my career,” explains Ana Ivanovic. “It was very important because it was my first big title. Winning my first title [Canberra, 2005] was special, but the win in Montréal paved the way for the success I had later in 2007 and 2008 because I knew I could perform and compete on a big stage.”
Mentioning only Ana Ivanovic’s win in Montréal doesn’t do justice to her impressive run in 2006. Up against six Top 30 rivals, including three seeds in her last three matches, she made heads roll all over the stadium, dropping only one set all week. In the final, it took her only 58 minutes to completely dismantle Hingis in two sets (6-2, 6-3)—a feat few players ever managed.
“I remember having a really good tournament up to the final and playing really consistently. But it rained a lot over the weekend, for the semifinal and final. We actually ended up playing the final on Monday, which is really unusual. Still, Centre Court was full, and I was playing against one of my idols. It felt very overwhelming, but having the opportunity to play her in the final and to actually win in straight sets, that was like a dream come true,” she remembers.
Paradoxically, back in the day, only one person said Ana Ivanovic was a serious contender in Montréal, and that was Martina Hingis herself. When we reminded her, Ana couldn’t help smiling: “Martina and I are friends. We were friends before and after that match. We also played each other a few more times after that. She’s lovely. I feel very flattered that she said that.”
Montréal, always in her heart
After her big win in 2006, Ana Ivanovic always remained a crowd favourite in Montréal and reciprocated the love a few years later when she walked into a tournament press conference wearing an I heart Montréal t-shirt. “I always had this connection to the tournament, and the t-shirt was a present from fans, so I decided to wear it. They were surprised but so excited!” she says.
Believe it or not, that’s not her only t-shirt from Montréal: “It’s actually a fun story: I was already retired, and my husband [German soccer star Bastian Schweinsteiger] played a match in Montréal. While he was there, he got two I heart Montréal t-shirts for our sons, who still wear them!”
Giving others the courage to dream
In 2016, plagued by injuries, Ana retired from the game at the age of 29. After leaving a huge mark on the tennis world, she is now doing tremendous work for communities.
She was appointed National Ambassador of UNICEF Serbia in 2007 and, since then, has contributed to the organization’s fundraising and programming efforts and shared the vision and values that guide UNICEF’s work for children. She is also an ambassador of the London-based Quercus Foundation to improve the lives of children and young people living in extreme poverty.
“That’s what I want to focus on in the future and give these young girls and boys the courage to follow their dreams, because we all have qualities and so many things we’re good that we should put into practice. It’s not about other people’s expectations of us, but about us following our own paths,” she concludes.