Dominik Jakovljevic plays at the BYU Indoor Tennis Facility. Jakovljevic is the son of Croatian immigrants and a lifelong tennis player. (Preston Crawley)

Tennis is life for BYU freshman and son of Croatian immigrants

Very few Americans know about the Yugoslav Wars and even fewer have felt the impact. For BYU freshman tennis player Dominik Jakovljevic, the wars have made him the man he is today.

“My parents left Croatia after the war, which was in former Yugoslavia,” Jakovljevic said. “Seven countries broke apart from each other. They decided to come to the U.S. because we already had family here. They booked plane tickets and they’ve been here ever since.”

The Yugoslav Wars were a series of conflicts in eastern Europe that occurred from 1991 to 2001. The attacks were fueled primarily by ethnic differences, a clamor for independence, and numerous government insurgencies. When the dust settled a decade later, the former country of Yugoslavia was dissolved, leaving seven independent countries in its wake.

“Growing up, my parents told me some really gruesome stories about them,” BYU student Jakob Klobcic, a Slovenian native, said. “Soldiers raiding villages, slaughtering women and children. And Croatia got the worst of it.”

Despite their less-than-ideal circumstances, Jakovljevic’s parents managed to make a good life for themselves in the United States. They settled in Bellevue, Washington, opened a tennis academy, and just a few years later, a tennis shop. It is little wonder that Jakovljevic grew up loving tennis.

Dominik Jakovljevic plays against New Mexico at the BYU Indoor Tennis Facility. Jakovljevic grew up playing tennis and was a five-star recruit coming to BYU. (Preston Crawley)

“I started playing tennis when I was six,” Jakovljevic said. “My dad has always been into tennis. He played tennis in high school back in Yugoslavia. He used to be competitive with me when I was nine or ten years old, but when I grew up it became easier to beat him, you know? But yeah, it was just a good fit for me.”

It did not take long for Jakovljevic to start earning recognition. By the time he had graduated from high school, Jakovljevic was ranked No. 30 in the nation by the Tennis Recruiting Network, reaching as high as No. 26 at one point in the season. This was good enough for a five-star ranking and several Division I scholarship offers, including from his eventual chosen destination, BYU.

“He’s a good talent and a very hard worker,” first-year BYU head coach Dave Porter said. “He’s very single-minded in terms of what he wants to do in tennis and life. He’s made some significant contributions so far and we’re expecting him to make more.”

The men’s tennis team has aspirations to make the NCAA Tournament this year, a feat the Cougars have not accomplished since 2013. Jakovljevic also has personal aspirations to qualify for the NCAA singles tournament. BYU has not had a qualifier since Eric Nyman in 2004.

But that is just the beginning for Jakovljevic. After he receives his four-year computer science degree at BYU, Jakovljevic plans on entering the Association of Tennis Professionals and trying his hand at the Grand Slam tournaments, the sport’s most prestigious contests. 

“My role model is Novak Djokovic,” Jakovljevic said. “We’re basically from the same part of the world, we speak the exact same language. I try to copy his play style the best I can. Aggressive baseliner, likes coming in, punishes all short balls. He’s a good role model on and off the court.”

Despite his big aspirations, Jakovljevic recognizes that he has a lot of things he needs to work on before he can accomplish his goals. 

“I’m pretty tall, six two or six three, but I feel like I’m pretty boney for my height, so I need to add a bit more meat and muscle mass to my body frame,” Jakovljevic said. “If I do that, I feel that it will be a lot easier to play points in matches because I’ll have more strength on the court and I can easily overpower opponents.”

Jakovljevic also mentioned that he needs to focus on strengthening himself mentally as well as physically.

“If I want to try to go professional, the biggest thing that I need to work on is my mentality and confidence on the court,” Jakovljevic said. “Without those two aspects, there’s no chance that one can succeed on a higher level.

But first, Jakovljevic must make it through his time at BYU. Although he has big plans for his future, he is more than happy to take the time to develop with his team, who he said is like a family to him.

Jakovljevic and the BYU men’s team are currently on a three-match win streak and started West Coast Conference play with a win against Santa Clara on March 6. The team travels to Las Vegas to take on UNLV on March 20, before returning to Provo to continue conference play against Saint Mary’s on March 26.

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