Aleks Kovacevic is now in his 5th year of eligibility at Illinois. He has an important decision to make. Will he play this 5th year or go full time and try to make it on tour? Whatever he decides, I am sure he will be successful. Aleks has seen success at the college level and on tour. He is currently ranked 534 in singles without playing one full calendar year. You can follow along with his tour results here and check out some of his crazy college achievements here. If you want to see what he is doing on social media check it out here. In this interview, we talked about his beginning memories of tennis, his recruiting process, the key to his success in college, a unique tournament, his most memorable moments in college and on tour, advice for a high school senior, and what tennis has taught him.
- At what age did you start playing tennis and when did you fall in love with the sport?
I started playing when I was 6. We were a 5-minute walk from the central park tennis court and my parents would play recreationally and play with them. I would take lessons quickly after and have loved it ever since. At first, it was really fun and at this point, it is more of a job now. I forget how cool it was to play at central park because it was a touristy spot.
- Can you walk me through your recruiting process?
My recruiting process was unique. I was not a very great recruit. I was originally looking at IVY League schools but I was not too interested in that. I visited Wake Forest, Florida, talked to Indiana. I liked them all but I was not hooked on any school. I was just focused on playing and was nonchalant with everything. I decided to wait will January of 2017 instead of going to school in Fall 2016. I played Zeke Clark in a future qualifying tournament and he was ranked high in the nation and beat me 7-5 in third and asked me if I had figured out anything for college. He told me about Illinois and I decided to look into it and I ended up going there. There were 3 or 4 other guys that were incoming freshmen that were coming in so I decided to go in with them. I committed to college 2 weeks before it started so it was super last minute.
- What do you think was your biggest contributor to your success your freshman year at Illinois? You had an impressive 23-9 record as a freshman and 10-1 in the conference.
I think the support system and the mental coaching was huge at Illinois. I lost my first 2 matches and then became mentally tough. In my first 3 years of college, I was out there competing well. It is super hard to play a clean match in college, so I think I mastered winning matches when I was not playing well. I did not let the pressure get to me. I was good at going out there and getting what I needed to get done on my court.
- You have had some impressive winning streaks. What does it take to win so many matches in a row?
I can not remember thinking about any match win streaks. I was so in the moment for a lot of these seasons where I looked at those matches trying to score a point for the team. When you continue to do that you gain confidence and others know when you are winning a lot and might get intimidated by you. I think they came from confidence and being in the moment. When you start to look ahead, you put pressure on yourself that you do not need.
- During your junior year, you made the semifinals of the NCAA Singles Tournament. How much confidence did your success during your junior year give you going into the NCAA tournament?
It gave me a lot. In my junior year, I was uber focused. Looking back, I never stopped and thought about how I was playing. The season went by so quickly. The biggest factor for my success was that I was not thinking of my past and just focused on one match at a time. I never looked ahead until I thought about playing JJ Wolf. Being solid in the season helped my confidence for the tournament. I knew I could get through matches scrapping out wins.
- What is the secret to success when clinching a match for your team?
When a match is 3-3 it is the worst and best feeling in the world. When the whole team is calling on you to win that match you need any little edge. It will usually come down to a crazy 3rd set. Staying solid and knowing when to go for big balls is essential.
- Can you talk about the Master’U BNP Paribas College tournament? What did it feel like representing team USA?
It was a cool trip, we got to go to France and everyone came together like a college team in a matter of a day. We bonded well and brought back the trophy for the USA. People were astonished by the American team and how we were playing. We were treated amazingly there too. We played the best of 7 matches: 1&2 singles, 1 doubles, and 1 mixed doubles. We got to cheer on each other because only 1 match played at a time.
- What has been your most memorable moment so far in your college tennis career? How has that moment differed from a professional match?
Playing JJ Wolf at home. I was successful that season and he was doing amazing. I wanted to take him out badly and we had not had a chance to play each other at Indoors where we both did well. We had a ton of fans there at Illinois and we played really good tennis and had amazing points. I lost but it was an amazing experience. Illinois and Ohio State are rivals for sure so it made it more special. My most memorable moment so far was when I beat Bradley Khlan because my individual goals were kind of solidified. That match showed me that I could be a professional tennis player.
- What is an area of your game that has improved since playing college tennis? What do you think you need to improve to get to the next level?
I think the biggest thing that has improved has been my strength and conditioning. Guys on tour are much older and stronger than a college kid. Mentally I have been growing as well.
- Do you plan on playing full time after college? If so, do you have a ranking goal that you would like to see yourself get to after your first full year?
I am planning on playing a full pro schedule. Plans are tough to visualize due to our current situation in the world. Also, at my ranking, it is tough to figure out a schedule and a lot of tournaments have been canceled in the U.S. I want to give myself a shot and make it full time. I just graduated so I have that as a backup plan. I am going to give it my all. I do not have a ranking goal, I just want to see some growth. If my level is there then I will get there.
- Do you think you will travel with any friends to tournaments this year?
I want someone to travel with and that will keep costs low. I was planning on traveling with a friend but he is going to play another year of college instead. Maybe I can work something out with another friend. Nothing has been planned yet though.
- Your highest-ranked win has been over Bradley Klahn when he was ranked 105 in the world. Did that win give you confidence that you can be a top 150 player?
When I first started playing pro events when I was 17 or 18 and I thought of the guys who were top 100 so far away from where I was. So being able to win against a guy that was at that level showed me that it was possible. It is in reach to play at that kind of level.
- What do you enjoy doing off the tennis court?
I have started playing video games because I have so much free time now. It is kind of bad. I have some financial trading stuff as a hobby with securities and such.
- If you could give advice to one player looking to receive a college tennis scholarship, what would you say?
Do not rush the process. You do not have to commit 2 years early. Take your time and see what opportunities arise. Make sure to follow your gut. Every school is different for every personality. Some schools you will fit into and others won’t. Your team and coaches will play a much bigger part in it than you may think. I would recommend making visits as well.
- What has tennis taught you in life?
It has shown me how important having a structure is in life. Tennis has given me something in life that must be done every day. Tennis has helped my mind grow and problem solve in other areas of life. It teaches you how to fight for things in life and to challenge yourself. Big themes in life are taught in competitions in tennis. It teaches you how to fend for yourself in the real world as well.