The Winner

Do not Waste Great Gifts
One should not succumb to anonymous forum criticism or become spoiled with excellent results. We have something exceptional, a powerful simplicity and flexibility, creativity and a higher idea, a different wish. But sport is not a wild fruit that will survive by itself. It must be nurtured, systematically, with resources of a responsible state and effort of each one of us. Lack of funds is not an excuse, it is always possible to find the means

By: Dejan Bulajić
Photographs: ”National Review” and archive of Bogdan Obradović

He started practicing tennis in the late 1970’s, at an improvised court, on the meadows of Novi Beograd. From there he started toward the Red Star”. He gained first coaching experiences in Kikinda, which slowly began to dominate the experiences as a player. He is now the selector for Serbian national team for Davis Cup, lecturer at the College for Sports and the right person who can say what the value of Serbian tennis really is today.
– I always show my pleasure because of the fact that our national ream is one of the strongest in the world, and that is the real indicator of true value of Serbian tennis, in addition to individual careers of our players. If all of us had been able to get together, we would have clearly triumphed in the finale against the Czechs, but even the fact that we stopped a step away from the top does not belittle the significance of the results we have achieved. With exception of Janko and Viktor, who are taking a break for a reason, careers of other male and female players are still prestigious. Novak is the second, Jelena and Ana are high ranking, Bojana has stable position, and Dušan Lajović is also among the first one hundred. These are facts that have great significance. If someone needs comparison, I will only say that a country like China in male tennis does not have a single player in the world top, although they have 15 million juniors, and only last year they built 30 thousand tennis courts. This shows how difficult it is to find yourself among the best, even when you have a perfect organization and infrastructure, because the competition is exceptionally strong and only the best can go on. It is a shame that a part of the public does not recognize this, but as if it is spoiled with excellent results, expects them to be repeated over and over again. We are fortunate that the elite of Serbian tennis is also followed by a group of exceptionally talented juniors – Ivana Jorović, Nikola Milojević, Peđa Krstin, Laslo Đere. Because of them and all those who are coming from junior selections, we must solve some very old problems. I mean primarily the National Tennis Centre, which we have not managed to build. If we don’t get it, we will put at risk all serious ambitions in the years to come.
Does the society follow the results of tennis players in the right manner?
– Tennis players did their part of the work. Along with victories and titles, they have affirmed Serbia in the best possible way, in every aspect, including marketing. How is this repaid? Most frequently by saying that tennis players are our best promoters, when they need to hide everything that has not been done. I have mentioned the National Tennis Centre. I know that this is the time of crisis, but it is always possible to find a solution. A complex like that would be a profitable institution, and not a place that would spend money. We have been waiting for a long time for the Tennis Association to move the things from ground zero. I cannot fight the impression that there is not sufficient understanding for what we have done so far. Last year we were second in the world, but we were presented in the public almost as losers. At the end of the year we were not mentioned in a single selection of best athletes.


How is it possible that champions are being created in such an environment?
– I lived abroad for a long time and worked with children from rich and highly developed countries. I know how they react and how they develop, but in our country there is something exceptional, I would call that simplicity. Talented children here know how to improvise, find their own style, nourish it and give it their stamp. It is a special moment in their inspiration, a higher idea, a different wish. It is energy bursting from them and giving them strength to overcome difficulties. Anyway, among our people there is a tradition of so-called positive warriors. Those are the warriors who do not jeopardize anybody around them, but they know how to defend themselves. Such a personality can become superior.
Novak Đoković as the best example and a unique phenomenon in Serbian sport.
– Novak is a phenomenon, primarily because of the manner in which he grew into a champion. From very young age it was clear that he had quality for a supreme player. However, what he has become today is not only thanks to his talent, but also his ability to survive disasters, and these have been plenty. He and his family have been facing problems that threatened to stop all the plans, from finances, through work conditions, to vary bad situation in the entire country. He was also aware of all that, but still he never lost his desire to move on If such a talent, like Novak was when he was eight years old, appeared in America, rest assured that he would have at least twenty sponsors at his side and would be able to chose the conditions in which he would work. He wouldn’t have to think about anything except about training. That was not the case with Novak. It was probably like this that he has gained the power to survive, which is so pronounced today. Just remember the games in which he would save himself from defeats in mysterious ways, when everybody thought that he was lost. Only Novak in that moment does not think like that. Today he is a person who perfectly controls his career, from where, how and how much he practices, to the selection of people in his professional team. I emphasize this because I see that many people couldn’t wait to object about his selection of Boris Becker as his coach. Rest assured that not a grain of dust would fall on Novak by accident, and let alone that he had not thought it through when he decided to make that move. I am certain that the combination of Serbian spirit and German discipline will soon give good results. We must only be realistic and know that triumphs do not repeat themselves like in a factory, because others are also fighting for them, with equal desire and power.
Therefore, there will be more talents like Novak, but the question is how many of them will be able to overcome the problems that follow them while they are growing up. The passage through that period is quite uncertain and many give up. Unfortunately, conditions for growing up of champions in Serbia are difficult and are not only sport related.


To what extent the contemporary cyber generations” are ready to practice sports, even only as a recreation?
– On Ada Ciganlija I lead academy that offers abundance of sports and recreational possibilities, and I can see that new generations are slowly returning to some normal physical activities. They are equipped with computers, latest generation mobile phones, they are versed in modern technology down to every detail, but there is still desire in them to play and to doo this outside of their homes. I see this in my children and their friends. In front of the buildings and in school yards there are again a large number of boys who are playing little football or basketball, many of them are on rollers, or are throwing frisbee. This only confirms that nature is stronger than technology, which should not be blamed for the fact that we let it take too much control over our children, who are stuck to the internet, TV shows and video games. Now, however, we must do what we can. We should organize local tournaments again, where boys and girls would compete for some symbolic prizes. In this way we would bring them out of their homes and remind them that they should play and mature through game.
Practicing sports requires substantial financial resources. Is this a threat of negative selection and loss of real talent?
– Unfortunately, this is evident in all, and especially in so-called expensive sports, , such as tennis. The state must seriously address this, because the future of our sports depends on it. That is why sports must enter schools, even preschools, so that talented children would be recognized in them, preserved and selected in time. The state has mechanisms that it can activate quickly, because I am certain there are adequate experts and projects that bring excellent results. Ideas are there, but there is no implementation. According to an old custom, we easily recognize problems, but we do not do anything to solve them. This is a trait that has been following us in all aspects of the society, from ecology, through economy, to sport. In my academy, I give an opportunity to talented children and I am searching for them throughout Serbia, and I am also lucky that they come to me on their own. Bt these are individual examples. The state must seriously think about the damage it has because of the outflow of a big number of talents and must take certain actions in a systematic way.
Does this mean a threat of imminent end of the golden period of Serbian tennis?
– Not, for as long as I am alive! I have stayed in Serbia with an intention to create new champions, although I had the opportunity to leave. I didn’t want to sell my aspirations for money that was offered to me, because I want to make them come true here. That is a tradition that I have been carrying from my ancestors, from the old Lika family, which always fostered the spirit of belonging to one’s people and pride for belonging to it. That is why I can speak loudly about everything that my people are, everything that is good and bad, and especially about their exceptional gift that is being wasted all over, without any plan or goal. I am staying here, greatly motivated because of the huge number of known and unknown people who give me their honest support, even only verbally, which means a lot to me. My Academy is on Ada Ciganlija, a unique heaven on earth, which I have not found anywhere else in the world. There I will forge the future champions and for as long as it lasts, the golden period of Serbian tennis will not end.


The Ship of Negativism
– The public, and this also applies to journalists, is dominated by a kind of ”internet criticism”. Forum criticism is becoming more and more prominent. People hidden behind fake names and pseudonyms allow themselves to maliciously criticize everything they can think of. Those are bombs of unrestrained passion, which erupt from their subconscious pockets, in which hatred, vanity, envy and open gloating for other people’s failures are raging. Many think that these are marginal phenomena and that we should not attach great importance to it, but I think that this has also been shaping our reality. Instead of making Serbia prettier and better, we have attached ourselves to a powerful ship of negativism that is towing us in a wrong direction.


Toward Positivity
– In the old days, it was not uncommon to go to a museum, theatre or a similar place where you would feel good and elevate yourself spiritually. In schools, they used to take us to visit monasteries and important sites, showing us the signs of times past. Encounter with something positive left trace in our consciousness. Today we can ask ourselves whether there is anything positive for some people, anything they accept as it is without the desire to mock it.


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