The 20-year-old Serb Katarina Jokic has been one of the most prominent players born in 1998, winning G12 Eddie Herr in 2010 (defeated Sofia Kenin in the semis) and many more junior titles that propelled her inside the Top 40 at the age of 16.
Katarina made the best possible start of her pro career as well, lifting the first trophy at the age of 15 in 2014 and almost entering the Top 600 in June that year. Out of sudden, Katarina's progress was halted by a nasty knee injury that sidelined her from the court for a year, having to start all over again when she recovered.
Thinking about her next steps, Katarina had decided to welcome the new challenge and start her Collegiate career at the University of Georgia in 2017. It didn't take long for Katarina to become the leader of the Bulldog pack, entering the Top 20 to become the best-ranked freshman in the States.
Katarina won 19 of 22 fall matches and she led Georgia with 31 singles wins on the court 1 during the spring run, helping Georgia to finish seventh and reach the NCAA Championships quarter-final. Jokic earned the Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Year, SEC First Team and SEC All-Freshman Team awards, making the best possible start of the Collegiate career and preparing herself for even bigger goals in 2018-19 season.
Katarina didn't have to wait for too long to prove her quality once again, hitting the pre-season ranking on a very high position and heading to the ITA National Fall Championships in Surprise, Arizona as the 9th seed.
After six straight sets win, Katarina Jokic has become the national champion and also the top-ranked player on the ITA rankings, another huge milestone in her young but successful career. This was the 11th national title for Georgia University women's tennis program and she will certainly be among the favorites for the big spring titles as well if she keeps the current form.
We had a chance to talk with Katarina about her junior career, injury and her life at Georgia University:
When did you start playing and who introduced you to tennis? I started playing when I was 6.
My dad took me to the tennis courts the first time and I really liked it. Your career on the ITF junior Tour had started just after you turned 13 and you had a chance to compete against the players like Daria Kasatkina.
After playing at Majors, Eddie Herr and Orange Bowl, you had decided to end it in 2014 and pursue pro success. Tell us something more about your first tennis years? I would say that my first tennis years were pretty good.
I remember winning Eddie Herr and playing semis of Orange Bowl. It was really nice. It was also very challenging for my parents because someone had to travel with me all the time, but they somehow managed it because they knew how much I love tennis.
You had made a great start of the pro career, winning the first ITF title in Sibenik just before turning 16 and almost entering the Top 600 during 2014. Instead of forging your way through the WTA rankings list, you had opted to embrace the new challenge and enter the world of Collegiate tennis in 2017 when you joined the University of Georgia.
Tell us something about this decision. When it comes to this decision, I think I made a good choice. I had a knee surgery when I was 17 so I couldn't play tennis for a year. This really changed my life. I didn't know if I will recover from it so I started studying a lot.
Then, one year later, I was able to play again but I knew that if it happens again my tennis career could be over. So, I talked to my parents and my coach and we thought that going to college would be the best option. Describe your regular day at the University of Georgia and how do you manage to make a balance between education and training? My regular day at UGA starts with going to class.
After class, I have lunch, and then tutoring. After tutoring we have practice, and then strength and conditioning. Usually, I have dinner around 6-6:30 and then I study or do homework in the evening. When I came to college it was really hard to manage this balance but I'm used to it now and this year has been much easier than the first one.
I always plan my days in advance and try to keep up with everything. You joined the Bulldogs a year ago, what have been the segments of your game that you improved the most in the last year or so and what makes you the better player now? In the last year, I've worked on my fitness and I think I became more mature on the court.
Drake was helping me work on it because he knew what I am missing. Those two things definitely helped me become a better player. Ever since you joined Georgia you have become the leader of the pack, wrapping up an amazing freshman season and making the best possible start of your Collegiate career.
It must have felt great for you to show quality right from the fall season and to earn many awards during the rookie season, including the ITA Southeast Regional Rookie of the Year award. It felt really good to get all these rewards but I never thought about them too much.
I just try to do my best in practice and improve a little bit every day. The start of your sophomore season has been nothing but great, earning the eighth place in the ITA Preseason Singles Ranking and securing the spot at the ITA National Fall Championships where you went all the way to win the title in Surprise, Arizona.
In the final, you battled past Michigan's Kate Fahey 6-3 7-6 to lift the biggest trophy in the sport during the fall season. Tell us something more about the tournament and how did you feel when you realized you have just become the champion.
I felt really confident before coming to Arizona. I know I've been working super hard and I felt great on th court. It was one of the best tournaments I played in my life and probably the best tennis I've ever played.
The match against Fahey was challenging because she played really well during the tournament so she was confident as well. It took me a few minutes to realize that I won nationals after that last point but I can't describe how happy I was.
Your plans for the spring season and where do you see Georgia in June? I think we can do really well in the spring. We have six ranked players right now and that is the most of all schools. We want to start the season strong and get better after every dual match so that we can be at our best in May.
Name the players who had the greatest influence on your career? I would say that Sharapova, Serena, and Djokovic are my favorite players so they for sure influenced my career. What is your game style and which shots do you rely on the most? My game style is usually aggressive but I think I'm pretty fast so I can play defense if I have to.
I rely on my backhand the most. Talk us through your experience and the atmosphere at the professional level compared to Collegiate tennis. College tennis is a lot more fun than professional tennis. I love when our fans come and support us when we play at home.
You don't really get that if you play ITF tournaments. The atmosphere is different and it's more exciting. Also, in college tennis you play for your team and not for yourself. That's the biggest difference and it took me a few months to get used to it.
It's really fun to play next to your friends and to play for them. What goals do you want to accomplish in the next couple of years? When it comes to my goals, I really want us to win team nationals in May.
I guess that's what everyone who plays college tennis wants. I also want to get better so I can be ready for the pro tour when I graduate. Olga Danilovic and Ivana Jorovic are the biggest young star of women's tennis in Serbia but it must be very difficult to make a decent tennis career in the country that has only a few pro tournaments during the season and with the lack of facilities outside the few biggest cities. I definitely agree on that.
I think it's hard for people from small countries to succeed in tennis because the country doesn't have so many resources. I think you need to have a good team and sponsors to travel and play tournaments around the world which Ivana and Olga have.