American Aleksandar Kovacevic started playing tennis in a unique way.
The 24-year-old, who was born in New York City, grew up learning to play tennis at the iconic Central Park.
“I was born and raised on the Upper West Side in New York and trained at John McEnroe’s Academy for a while,” Kovacevic said. “We lived at 97th and Central Park West, right on the park. My parents would go on the weekend to hit at the courts and I went with them. It was a five minute walk from our apartment. It’s a cool way to start for sure. I never really appreciated that until I got older.”
Thanks to his parents, Milan and Milanka, who were both table tennis professionals, Kovacevic began his journey towards making a career in his own right as a pro athlete.
In July, Kovacevic reached his maiden ATP Challenger Tour final in Indianapolis, Indiana, where he relinquished six championship points to China’s Wu Yibing, who prevailed 6-7(10), 7-6(13), 6-3. In the semi-finals, Kovacevic beat #NextGenATP star Ben Shelton, who had reached the final at the Rome (Georgia) Challenger the previous week.
Kovacevic, who was ranked outside the Top 350 at the beginning of this season, also reached the semi-finals at the Little Rock and Lexington Challengers this summer.
Now in the semi-finals at the ATP 250 event in Seoul, where Kovacevic has upset three Top-100 players (Kecmanovic, Tseng, McDonald), the youngster is at a career-high mark 166 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings.
Before Kovacevic turned professional in 2021, he had a standout collegiate career at the University of Illinois, where he was a two-time ITA All American and graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in finance.
“In March 2021, I played the Cleveland Challenger and went from qualies to the semi-finals,” Kovacevic said. “I knew it was my time to turn pro. My dad had to convince me, because I was ranked 700 at that time, but I’m happy I did.”
When Kovacevic made his Grand Slam qualifying debut at the 2021 US Open, he advanced to the final round before falling short to Argentine Marco Trungelliti. The following day, the American was set to do some stretching at the gym when a familiar face invited him to tag along for a fitness session: Novak Djokovic.
Kovacevic’s father, Milan, is Serbian and his mother hails from Bosnia. When ‘Aleks’ was younger, the family would take an annual trip to Serbia. When Kovacevic met Djokovic at Flushing Meadows, he brushed off the rust of his Serbian-speaking abilities to talk with the 21-time major champion.
“My final round qualifying match against Trungelliti, I had seven or eight match points. It was one of the most heartbreaking losses I’ve ever had. The next day, when I was in the gym, Novak told me he heard about my match and asked if I wanted to join his fitness session.
“I was shocked. He was chasing history that week and didn’t have to give me his time. It was an incredible experience. At the end, Novak told me that I’ve got a bright future and I should train with him in Serbia.”
At heart, Kovacevic is an adrenaline junkie. Whether it’s snowboarding, jet skiing, or skydiving, he is ready for a thrill. He credits his attitude of getting outside of his comfort zone as part of why he’s found success on the court.
“I live by the philosophy that if I do one thing every day that makes me uncomfortable, it will make me a tougher person in life,” Kovacevic said. “I take cold showers in the morning. Those things sharpen you as a person. It makes you stronger on the court when you face adversity out there.
“In college, we played the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Oklahoma and after we won, our coach [Brad Dancer] pulled the van around and told us to get in. He told us that we were going to get our gift from a booster, which we received every year. He told us not to post anything on social media or call our parents until after we get the gift.
“We got to a small airport with a skydiving sign. I said, ‘No way!’. I wasn’t going. A few of us stayed on the ground, but after three hours, we finally decided to go. It was honestly one of the best moments of my life. Usually it’s 10,000 feet but this place had clearance to do 15,000 feet. It was a minute straight freefall. It got us loose for the matches the next day for sure.”
Kovacevic, who now lives and trains in Boca Raton, Florida, will next play Japan’s Yoshihito Nishioka in the semi-finals of the Eugene Korea Open Tennis Championships.