I started playing tennis in my home country, Serbia, when I was seven years old after switching from basketball, swimming and even ballet. Most of my peers were already playing for a couple of years and I found it hard to catch up. However, a couple of years later I played my first tournament. I remember how nervous I was as everyone was so much more experienced and older than me. I lost in the first round. Then the same thing happened five times in a row. However, I slowly started to build up my game by training for hours every day, which was hard to fit in around school days. Soon it paid off as when I was nine years old, I won my first tournament and from there I joined a successful tennis academy.
A year went by and the Serbian tennis federation launched the end of year masters, which gathers the top ten players in the country. I hoped to make the inaugural edition, but ended up being just one out. Despite this, it made me more determined to make the cut the next year. I spent the following summer preparing for the finals in Rafael Nadal’s Academy in Manacor, Spain. The experience of being coached by his uncle, and watching Nadal, who was the World No.1 at the time, really helped me improve. Not only did I make the cut that year, but I was also seeded No.3 – meaning I had high chances of winning. Win I did, beating the defending champion in straight sets.
As a result, I was invited to train at the National Tennis Centre in London throughout the summer along with the top junior tennis players from across the world. I ended up spending two consecutive summers there. However, during this time, most successful players started dropping out of school in order to be able to focus on tennis. As a fourteen year old, I sacrificed the comfortable life I had home with my family and friends to move to the UK and pursue my tennis career. I was offered a scholarship at one of the top UK sports boarding schools. A few years, and thousands of hours on court later, I was the captain of the team that won the British National Championships.
This win gave me the opportunity to train at the National Tennis Centre full time, along with other British professional players such as Andy and Jamie Murray and Heather Watson. I decided to accept their offer, which meant I had to move to London. I enrolled at Brampton College in 2018, where I’m doing an A level course in Politics, Economics and Psychology. I get incredible support and understanding from my teachers here, which allows me to train, compete and focus on my education all at the same time. It also enables me to prepare for my A level exams whilst playing in the British Division 1 League.
By Mila Ivanov