April 2, 2009
Ani Mijacika is currently the top women’s tennis player in the country, according to the Campbell/ITA (Intercollegiate Tennis Association) Tennis singles poll. Ani, a junior on the Clemson Women’s Tennis team, has held the number-one ranking in three straight polls (through March 30) and is the only tennis player in Clemson history, man or woman, who can lay claim to being the best in the nation.
Although she recognizes the importance of this ranking, Ani also brushes it off, explaining, “Being ranked first or fifth doesn’t matter. I just go out and play my best.”
She admitted feeling pressure last year (her sophomore year) when she first rose to the top spot. “I was shaking and thought, `come on you can do it,'” she confessed to thinking prior to her first match as the #1 player.”
This confident attitude has served Mijacika well throughout her tennis career.
Originally from Makarska, Croatia, a city on the Adriatic Coast, Ani began her tennis career across the world on her sixth birthday. Because her cousin was a tennis coach, she decided to try it out and has loved playing tennis ever since.
What is it about tennis that inspires Mijacika? “I like the game. It’s mental. I like to be unpredictable. You never know what is going to happen. Tennis is really challenging because it can be really long. So it challenges you mentally, because every shot is different.”
Although Mijacika had a passion for playing tennis, she hadn’t considered pursuing a tennis career in the United States until she met Clemson Head Coach Nancy Harris. Harris was in Croatia scouting another player, a friend of Mijacika’s, when she saw Ani play. In fact, Harris was the only coach with whom Mijacika actually talked and she began convincing the talent to continue playing tennis at Clemson.
A true novice, Ani knew nothing of how the system worked or about any schools. However, Harris impressed Mijacika with Clemson’s tradition of athletic as well as academic excellence. Specifically, Clemson’s tennis program was highly ranked and was only improving.
Ani decided to risk the move to the U.S. to pursue a tennis career. Her decision, so far, has proven to be rewarding. Mijacika is happy she chose to travel all the way to Clemson to play tennis. Most importantly, she says that student-athletes are supported in the United States.
Back home in Croatia, the options are to either try to play professionally or go to school, not do both. But at Clemson, Mijacika majors in Language and International Trade while also playing tennis.
What’s the biggest difference between living in Croatia and the U.S.?
“Everything. Everything is completely different. Culture. People. Food. Everything is different.”
Mijacika is arguably the most decorated player in Clemson women’s tennis history, and she is still only a junior. With the #1-ranking target in several matches now, Mijacika has noticed a difference in how her opponents play against her.
“It’s different because players are especially motivated playing the #1 player,” she said. “You can see them get so fired up. Recently, some opponents were screaming and yelling because they were trying to get into my head, but I just try to stay cool.”
Remaining composed and reminding herself that she can play well have helped Mijacika rise to the top. When asked her opinion of what the best part of her game is she replied, “I think I have a lot of variety in my game; I like to mix it up. My serve and forehand are my strengths. My opponents don’t like to play me because it’s never the same.”
Even with these skills, Ani feels she can still better her game. “There is always something to improve and attempt to perfect,” she admitted.
While Ani may be highly ranked individually, she enjoys the team aspect of college tennis and the doubles game. “Doubles is definitely more fun. There are different plays to do, and you can talk to your teammates.”
One of her most memorable accomplishments while at Clemson was winning the ACC Championship as a team in 2008. Mijacika began rewriting the program record books as a freshman and has ensured her place in Clemson history ever since.
She partnered with Federica van Adrichem for an historic run in the 2007 NCAA Doubles Tournament. The duo reached the semifinals, which was the furthest a Clemson doubles team had ever advanced, and was ranked second in the final poll that season for the highest final doubles ranking in school history.
Through Mar. 29 matches, Mijacika has compiled 74-20 record in doubles matches and ranks in Clemson’s top five all-time for her career doubles winning percentage (.787). She boasts a career singles record of 81-20 and her .802 career winning percentage ranks seventh in school history.
As for awards and accolades, Mijacika is a three-time All-American, garnering the honor twice for doubles (2007 and 2008) and once for singles (2008). She was selected as the 2007 ACC and ITA Southeast Region Freshman-of-the-Year and was named an ITA Collegiate All-Star following the 2008 season.
So far this year, Mijacika has collected three ACC Player-of-the-Week honors to bring her career total to seven.
Nonetheless, Mijacika is not satisfied yet. She is still working to improve her game and wants to lead the Tigers to another ACC crown. Although her bid for the 2009 NCAA Singles Championships is likely secure, Mijacika hopes to advance further than in her past two seasons and vie for the national title.
Following her career at Clemson, she plans to return to Croatia and play tennis professionally. With the success she has accomplished in college, the challenge of the pro tour awaits her.
However, she will have a degree to fall back on and her ability to speak four different languages (Croatian, English, Spanish and German).
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