An expression of genuine gratitude at winning a small tour event doesn’t always come easy to players who have scaled the rankings and had their name etched on a Grand Slam trophy.
Beneath Ana Ivanovic’s multimillion-dollar smile, though, is the same down-to-earth person who learnt from a young age – practising in a war-afflicted city – things don’t always work out as expected.
It’s nearly six years since the Belgrade native reached No.1 in the world on the back of her first, and to date only, major title at Roland Garros with victory over Dinara Safina.
Her career since has failed to match up to those heights.
So when the 25-year-old Serbian beat Venus Williams for her 12th career title in Auckland on the eve of Australian Open 2014, it was a victory with added significance; her first title since Bali more than two years ago.
"It's very special," she said. "Every victory is special, but this one even more so because it's been a while since I've won a tournament. I've really worked hard and I felt like I deserve it, but to actually make it happen and especially in a final against such a good player, it's very thrilling."
The year of her Grand Slam breakthrough, 2008, remains Ivanovic’s standout season, one where she also made a run to the final of the Australian Open before falling to Maria Sharapova and scooped the Indian Wells title.
She ended 2007 ranked No.4 after winning titles in Berlin, Los Angeles and Luxembourg as well as her debut in a major final against Justine Henin at Roland Garros.
Since her stellar 2007-08 seasons, though, Ivanovic has fallen well short of emulating those successes.
She has reached just one grand slam quarterfinal – at the 2012 US Open – and has not finished the year ranked in the top 10 since, dropping to as low as No.65 in the world in 2010.
Where her confidence has dipped on the big stages, a string of injuries and a slew of coaching changes have done little to help her cause.
Now, however, she enters Australian Open 2014 with a 5-0 start to the season and a new team – all from the former Yugoslav region. Her coach, Nemanja Kontic, has played Davis Cup for Montenegro.
Ivanovic has spoken of the comfort of having a team with the same cultural background and being able to speak the same language.
The aim is not to make her time on the practice court any easier. It’s a step towards rebuilding her confidence with a clear goal of returning to the top 10.
“That’s my main goal at the moment, but I’m still quite far from achieving it,” she said.
“I need to be able to beat the top players.”
The pressure of that lone major title from 2008, though, still rests heavily on her shoulders.
“You have proved to yourself, and to everyone else, that you are capable of achieving it, so the expectation increases,” she said.
“No matter how much belief you have in yourself, it is only when you achieve your goals – like winning a Grand Slam – that you prove to yourself how good you are. Pressure from the media increases, because once you win a Grand Slam you become a contender at future tournaments.”
Ivanovic’s flat forehand, when it’s on, is one of the most potent in the women’s game. Her movement and net play have improved markedly over the years, and although she didn’t win a title in 2013, Ivanovic found consistency at the Slams, reaching the fourth round at the Australian, French and US Opens.
Off-court, she has already turned down a small acting role in a Hollywood film. Her movie-star looks and affable personality have helped ensure her place among the top 10 highest-paid female athletes for 2013 with earnings of $7 million.
However, she remains humble, making it clear her career priorities remain firmly confined to the tennis court.
“Well, obviously my big goal is to win another Grand Slam,” she said.
“You know, I really want to work hard for it. It's (a) long way. I have to beat players like Vika (Victoria Azarenka), Serena (Williams), other top players to get there. I'm aware of that. I have (the) luxury that I've been there, so I know what it takes.”
Ana Ivanovic is the 14th seed at Australian Open 2014 and plays Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands in the first round.