Ana Ivanovic v Venus Williams: Fresh off the plane, tennis aces fire their first serves
Tennis ace Ana Ivanovic has taken time off the court to get amongst it in New Zealand, hitting the beach and enjoying the rare treat of staying up late for New Year's Eve.
But her nemesis, Venus Williams, flew into Auckland airport late last night – and she's all about hitting the ball.
"There's no magic, you get out there and you fight and hopefully your ball goes in more than your opponent's," Venus said. "What else can you try?"
If they get their way, the two former world number ones will face off in the final of the ASB Classic this week. Ana won in 2014; Venus won last year.
And the current No 1, Venus' little sister Serena Williams, may be here next year.
"I keep telling Serena that Auckland really wants to see her," Venus said. "She's a little sister, she's got to do what she wants to do I guess, but I think she wants to come for sure."
Ana Ivanovic was the first of the big names to land in New Zealand.
"It was beautiful weather so I managed to get a couple of hours in down on the beach, had some nice lunch, enjoyed the view a little bit. I didn't swim, but if the weather improves I can do that later in the week," Ana said.
The 28-year-old Serb was stoked to be able to stay awake for New Year's celebrations, but didn't make it much past the stroke of midnight.
"I was really happy I actually lasted until midnight. Last time I was here I went to bed at 11pm because I played the next day, so this time I managed to see the fireworks, but I went to bed straight after."
The brunette beauty has been forced to endure a soggy start to the new year, but says exploring different cities is one of the perks of her job as a professional tennis player. "I'm the type of person who loves to experience new things, new places, to meet different people, so this is the opportunity to do that as well," she said.
But when touring takes up to 10 months of her year it's not always easy to juggle the business with pleasure.
"That's the tough part and many people are not aware of that. It does take extra energy and an effort, but also I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to do these kinds of things as well."
Chaperoned by her mother and aunt, Ana visited Auckland jewellery boutique Naveya & Sloane on Saturday, where she was gifted a bespoke $20,000 champagne and gold diamond ring. An identical piece will be given away during this week's ASB Classic at the Moet & Chandon Champagne Lounge.
Ana's new piece balanced out the massive rock that couldn't be missed on her engagement finger, though she remained coy when quizzed about relationship rumours that her Manchester United mid-fielder boyfriend Bastian Schweinsteiger had popped the question.
"That's personal," she said, blushing.
Ivanovic, now ranked 16, defeated Venus Williams in the final in 2014. She'll make her first appearance in the singles on Tuesday and has this year teamed up with Belgian Kirsten Flipkens in the doubles. They are likely to play their first match together on Monday.
Venus, last year's winner, is back to defend her title and said it's an event that's become one of her favourites.
"I love being here," the 35-year-old said. "It's been a great tradition for me the last couple of years and that's all the reason to keep it going."
- Sunday Star Times