Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Serb and Volley Game That Survived NATO's Air Raids; Ivanovic Has Risen from Her Troubled Past to Challenge Fellow Exile Sharapova. by Chris Jones in Paris

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Serb and Volley Game That Survived NATO's Air Raids; Ivanovic Has Risen from Her Troubled Past to Challenge Fellow Exile Sharapova. by Chris Jones in Paris

Article excerpt

TODAY'S French Open semifinal between rivals Maria Sharapova and Ana Ivanovic brings together two players whose lives have been shaped by their troubled homelands.

A year before Sharapova was born, her family had to flee the Belarussian city of Gomel in the wake of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, which happened across the border in Ukraine. Although the 20-year-old now lives in the United States, she has retained her Russian citizenship and has not forgotten her roots, setting up a charity to aid the three countries most affected by Chernobyl.

Sharapova moved to America as a seven-year-old when she joined the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Florida. Ivanovic, however, has spent the bulk of her life in Serbia, even when in 1999 NATO forces were conducting air raids to crush Slobodan Milosevic's government.

Despite the turmoil, Ivanovic's parents tried to keep a sense of normality, encouraging their daughter to focus on her tennis. "I stayed in Serbia most of my career and during the bombing," said the 19-year-old.

"That was the toughest times. It was going on for three months and it was hard to practise. In the beginning, we wouldn't practise at all and later on, we got used to that and would practise at seven in the morning [before the bombings started] and try to live as normal as possible." Because of restrictions placed on Serbia, getting visas to play abroad proved a major worry for Ivanovic.

The solution to her problems came after a Swiss businessman invested [pounds sterling]200,000 in her career, which led to Ivanovic moving to Basel, where she now lives.

Ivanovic said: "When I was in Serbia we had a lot of travelling to do and getting visas for different countries was a problem. But I got the chance to go to Switzerland, to practise. Looking back, AP that was an important part of my career and I'm really thankful to them." The many sacrifices made by both players and their families have paid off handsomely. World No2 Sharapova boasts Wimbledon and US Open titles while Ivanovic has made her first French Open semi-final, risen to No7 in the world and is closing in on her first [pounds sterling]1million in prize money. …

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