MELBOURNE (AFP) - Resurgent former world number one Ana Ivanovic says she is excited by the prospect of facing Serena Williams at the Australian Open to test how far her game has come.
Now ranked 14, she has never revisited the highs of 2008 when she won the French Open and made the Australian Open final, but under Serbian coach Nemanja Kontic she feels she is getting back to her best.
She won this month's Auckland International and beat local hope Samantha Stosur to earn the chance of meeting Williams for a place in the quarter-finals on Sunday.
"I mean, Serena is on top of the game for so long now. She's someone we (all) admire actually. It's going to be very tough task," the Serb said of the world number one, who is gunning for an 18th Grand Slam title.
"But I look forward to that challenge. I've been playing some good tennis all summer. It's going to be nice test to see where I'm at."
Ivanovic, who has family in Melbourne and is popular with Australian fans, earning her the nickname Aussie Ana, is enjoying a renaissance under Kontic, who replaced Nigel Sears as her coach after last year's Wimbledon.
The 26-year-old said the years since playing her best tennis had been a learning experience and she was now feeling in a better space mentally.
"You learn about yourself through each experience you have," she said.
"Over the past few years I did learn a lot. Like I was talking the other day, I made some choices and some mistakes that were not necessarily my decision.
"Now I really realise that it's about me and it's about my career.
"I'm more forward in my opinions and the decisions I have to take. I really am now more confident about those decisions, and also the way everything is. I can be a more mature player on the court."
Ivanovic showed glimpses of her former best to beat 2011 US Open champion Stosur 6-7 (8/10), 6-4, 6-2 and will need to be on top of her game to get close to the peerless Williams, who won a career-best 11 titles last year.
"Many things are going to be very important," she said of the showdown.
"She's obviously a great server. For me, it's going to be very important to hang in her service games and try to make her play and make more returns.
"Then again on my service game, to try and stay composed and serve well, yet be aggressive.
"So it's going to be finding the balance between being aggressive enough but yet not rushing."
Named an ambassador for UN children's agency Unicef in 2007, Ivanovic said it was also important for her to be a role model in what she does on and off the court.
"It's a great honour for me to be a role model for any kid," she said.
"I started playing tennis because of Monica Seles and I always try to encourage kids to play tennis or any other sport for that matter.
"I think it's very important in today's world just to stay active and follow their dream and their passion because many people will try to influence them, maybe force them to play, or forbid them to play.
"I think it's just important they follow their own instincts, what they love. That's what matters at the end of the day."