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By Richard Pagliaro | Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Ana Ivanovic

Ana Ivanovic is one of 19 former world No. 1 players who share their stories with director Francis Amat in the new documentary Unraveling Athena.

Photo credit: Christopher Levy

A parking lot was paradise for Monica Seles, who learned to play tennis in a parking lot swatting balls adorned with cartoon characters drawn by her artist father.

Ana Ivanovic spent her younger years training in a tennis court converted from a swimming pool in her native Belgrade.

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Former doubles world No. 1 Anna Kournikova sharpened her strokes hitting balls against the wall of a Moscow supermarket.

Mundane and makeshift courts around the world have served as springboards to success for world No. 1 players.

Director and composer Francis Amat examines the fascinating and disparate journeys to the top of the tennis world in the new documentary Unraveling Athena.

Working with producer and former world No. 1 Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, Amat interviewed 19 women who have held the world No. 1 ranking in singles or doubles.

The result is a fascinating film that tells the story of their journeys. 

"In films, not always but in general, when women are protagonists they are not always depicted as winners," Amat told Tennis Now. "They struggle, yes, like these champions, but for some reason after the struggles they don’t always win. And I think is important to have films where women win big time.

"This is my personal opinion of course, but if we want to talk about equality, we have to start recognizing that women also win. I think that’s the right way to respect them."

Unraveling Athena pulls back the curtain on the standard clich├ęs spouted in post-match pressers and cuts to core questions: What price do women pay to be the best in the world and what have they learned from their journeys?

The film, which was four-and-a-half years in the making, has been selected for five festivals and has been recognized by the Hollywood Independent documentary awards as a semifinalist for best feature documentary, best score and best first time filmmaker. Producers are seeking a distribution deal.

Several players reflect on the sacrifice, self-doubt and pain they confronted on their journeys.

Ultimately, Unraveling Athena is most powerful when its stars are most reflective.

"I think that this a group of women winners, that didn’t have to ask permission to anyone to follow their dreams," Amat told Tennis Now. "They had a dream and the followed it, and I think this is important, and this is something that inspired me to tell this story."

Unraveling Athena is packed with entertaining and emotional stories from champions including Angelique Kerber, Ana Ivanovic, Billie Jean King, Chrissie Evert, Martina Navratilova, Kim Clijsters, Justine Henin, Caroline Wozniacki, Jelena Jankovic and Venus Williams.

While the champions took decidedly disparate route to the top, the film unlocks a shared common quest in their journey.

Each No. 1 dared to dream big and defied their fears and self doubt passionately pursuing a vision.

In many cases, they were inspired by parents whose tennis experiences varied wildly, but whose passion and belief in their children was unwavering. Chrissie Evert and Martina Hingis were both daughters of coaches, while Billie Jean King and Ana Ivanovic were  both from families with no tennis background.

"All of them have an unbelievable will to win and succeed," Amat said. "And another trait I think they have is that they didn’t look back, always forward."


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