Melbourne: Faced with a dwindling number of local stars, Australian fans are turning to imported players — with “Aussie Ana” Ivanovic the latest adopted heroine.
Ivanovic, a former world number one and sometime girlfriend of Australian golfer Adam Scott, also has an uncle living in Mentone, a suburb of Melbourne.
With no home-grown women left in the Australian Open’s third round, Ivanovic was asked if she’d like to stand in as an honorary Aussie.
“Thank you for the offer. I’d be happy. I think people here are so lovely so I love coming here,” Ivanovic said.
“It’s my favorite Grand Slam. I’m so happy it’s the beginning of the year so I can come even earlier.”
Ivanovic follows in the tradition of “Aussie Kim” Clijsters, who was taken to Australian hearts during her relationship with Lleyton Hewitt and remained feted by the Melbourne crowds until her retirement last year.
After the departures of Hewitt and Sam Stosur, the only Australian left standing was the controversial Bernard Tomic, whose brash manner and run-ins with the police have not endeared him to all sections of the public.
Australian fans could also look to Britain’s Laura Robson, who was born in Melbourne but moved away when still a baby, while many view Swiss great Roger Federer, Tomic’s conqueror on Saturday, as one of their own.
According to one survey, the four-time Australian Open winner has been the country’s most popular athlete for the past three years running, coming in ahead of its cricket, rugby, AFL and swimming stars.
An Australian TV executive told The Age newspaper that Ivanovic was “almost seen as quasi-Australian”, and that his network would also “look to capitalise” on Robson’s Melbourne links.
Even Scotland’s Andy Murray has had the Aussie treatment at the Australian Open, after a spoof movie poster pictured him as “Crocodile Dunblane”, drawing on the “Crocodile Dundee” character immortalised by Paul Hogan.
“He’s here for your trophy... and your Sheilas,” read the tagline, with a picture of Murray, in Crocodile Dundee attire, clutching his girlfriend with one hand and a tennis racquet with the other.