Tennis Star Ana Ivanovic Shares Her Secrets to Relentless Endurance

By Erin Bried

At first glance, tennis seems like it's all about strength and speed. If you can get to the ball in time, then crush it across the net, there's not much your opponent can do (but hope to get her racket on it). When you watch a grand slam tournament, however, like this month’s U.S. Open, where the greatest players in the world go head-to-head in match after grueling match for two weeks straight, you realize that tennis trophies can't be won on powerful strokes alone. Victory depends on a player's ability to run down and return every single ball as hard, fast and strategically in the very last game as in the first. Stamina is what allows you to hit winners, even when the sun is blazing and you’re in a three-setter and every game goes to deuce. Endurance, in other words, is what makes a champion.

Top-ranked player Ana Ivanovic should know. She once battled in — and won — an epic three-hour, 24-minute grand slam showdown. "You're never out of the game until you've lost the final point," she says. That determination, backed by intense workouts, has earned her an impressive 15 singles titles, $14 million in prize money and legions of die-hard fans, including more than 4 million on social media.

Ivanovic's current dream is to win the Open, and she's been training so hard for it — usually two and a half hours on the court, plus another hour in the gym every day — that she burns through a new pair of sneakers every two weeks. "I'm working on my strength, agility, explosiveness and speed," says the 6-foot Serbian who, as a child, practiced her now-famous forehand in an empty swimming pool in Belgrade between NATO bombings. "Living through war has helped make me pretty strong," she says. "I've had to fight to improve my life. Nothing has come easily."

Given her personal history, it's no surprise that she's vowed to always persevere. "Quitting is never an option," she says. In fact, whenever she hits a wall in her workout, she uses it as an opportunity to push her limits even further, incorporating high-intensity intervals to help improve her endurance as well as her body's ability to use oxygen efficiently.

In addition to training her muscles, Ivanovic also works to keep her mind sharp and her energy up throughout those hours-long, high-stakes matches. (Known as an emotional player, she often fist-pumps even the easiest points as if they meant the game.) "My adrenaline levels are always high before I get onto the court, but I remind myself that getting nervous just means I care," she says. To stay focused, she meditates. To keep herself pumped during matches, she sings Ariana Grande songs in her head.

In a recent Instagram post, there's a gym selfie of Ivanovic wearing an Adidas T-shirt with the words DREAM, SUFFER, SUCCEED spread across her chest in giant block letters. It's become her mantra. "To me, all three words are positive," she says. "Winning wouldn't be so satisfying if you didn't suffer a little bit. Hard work always pays off."

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