It’s common for up-and-coming tennis players to dream of becoming No.1 in the world. For 17-year-old Serb Nikola Milojevic, there may be that little bit more pressure to do so.
“Unfortunately since Novak Djokovic is from Serbia, everybody is expecting nothing less than that from myself,” Milojevic joked, beaming.
Whether or not the young man will achieve such a feat remains to be seen, but for now he’s on the right track. Sitting as the top seed in the Australian Open 2013 junior championships and the second-ranked ITF player, Milojevic is turning heads with his overwhelming success at tournaments around the world.
So what differentiates him from the crop of other promising young players on the junior circuit? Well, for starters, he has compatriots Djokovic and Janko Tipsarevic in his corner.
“They are just incredible,” Milojevic said frankly.
“I get big support from both of them, especially Tipsarevic as he is actually my mentor, and I’m really grateful because they are helping me a lot during my junior career and I think it’s going to help me even more in my senior career.
“They give me so much advice about how to become a better professional, what to do on the court and how to deal with the pressure. They have so much experience on the tour and they are such good players. As No.1 and No.9 – that’s the best you can get.”
Ahead of his quarterfinal at the Australian Open juniors against Italy’s Filippo Baldi on Thursday, Milojevic enters the match with unbridled confidence. The young man is riding the momentum of a phenomenal winning streak, having come away victorious in 23 of his past 24 matches – the only loss a result of a medical retirement in the quarterfinal of the Osaka Mayor’s Cup in Japan.
That stretch includes three singles titles, most notably the Grade A event in Mexico City where he romped the competition without dropping a set.
But if you ask him, a long stretch of strong performances doesn't equate to automatic wins, especially at grand slams.
“It’s a lot of matches without losing and that’s really nice but this is it, right here (at the Australian Open),” Milojevic said.
“This is the biggest tournament and this is where I don’t want to lose. I’m the No.1 seed but right now I don’t think it really matters, because there are so many good players. Even if you are first, second or third seed, you know that if you just go a little bit down on your level you’re going to lose.”
The young Serb spent a lot of time at the world-class Mouratoglou Tennis Academy in Paris in his youth – what Milojevic deemed as the “most beautiful and best academy in Europe” – but struggled with the demands of living away from home. Realising he'd have a better life pursuing his tennis dream closer to his family, he moved back to Belgrade and kept training.
He is in Melbourne with his father, Tom, and coach Alex Slovic, who offer him plenty of vocal support during his matches.
While the up-and-comer doesn’t possess the power game that some of his junior counterparts boast, his strengths can be found at the baseline, where he uses his fluid and natural backswing to produce crisp groundstrokes, many translating into winners.
“I’m actually very much like Djokovic in my game,” Milojevic explained.
“I have a good return, I am good with my movement and I have good groundstrokes. I’m not a big server and definitely we are quite the same physically as well, so I think for me my game is very similar to Novak's.”
While there’s a long way to go before Milojevic reaches the heights of his home-country heroes, he’s certainly on his way. A quarterfinal win in the juniors’ event would be another step in the right direction.
Win or lose, Milojevic can at least take solace in the fact he’s accomplished one major feat at Melbourne Park this January.
“I actually hit with Djokovic right before his last match (against Tomas Berdych),” he said, beaming.
“And I’m satisfied because he won, I think, because of my great warm-up ...”