Photo: Lauren Horsch
Freshman Alen Salibasic is the second player of head coach Evan Austin’s first recruiting class as the leader of the Drake men’s tennis team.
Last year, Austin led the Bulldogs to the NCAA tournament as well as the Missouri Valley Conference regular season and tournament titles, but he lost his lone senior Mauricio Ballivian at the top singles slot. If Salibasic’s tournament results in his native Bosnia are any indicator, Austin may have already found a player that can help the Bulldogs remain deep at the top of their lineup.
Despite being a Bosnian citizen, Salibasic was not actually born in Bosnia. In April 1992, the Bosnian War erupted and the Salibasics fled to Allen, Germany, before the birth of Alen. Salibasic spent the first four years of his childhood in Germany until the situation in Bosnia subsided.
Soon after his family moved back to Bosnia, Salibasic’s father took him to the tennis courts for the first time. After a short time on the court, he was hooked.
“It was just out of curiosity at first,” Salibasic said, “but I liked it from the first practice and I started playing continuously.”
Salibasic moved from the outdoor courts to his local tennis club in the town of Lukavac. The club was far from world-class, as the war had ended just a couple years prior. The country was in a period of rebuilding and there was little time or money available for grooming star athletes.
In fact, the small club in Lukavac shut down during the school year so Salibasic was forced to move to a larger club an hour away. The long commute put more pressure on the young Bosnian both athletically and academically, but the larger facility paid dividends for his game.
By the time he was 10, Salibasic was the top player in his age division in Bosnia. After winning multiple national championships in the under-12 and under-14 divisions, he began playing in international tournaments at the age of 14.
“I was thinking to myself, ‘What is the next step?’” He said. “In the club I was practicing at in Bosnia I wasn’t improving anymore.”
Salibasic moved back to Germany to practice at a large tennis academy in Stuttgart, but this time his family couldn’t join him and he was left to train and study on his own.
He spent six months changing his technique to compete at a higher level on the International Tennis Federation and Futures circuits in Europe. Once again, the move to a better facility paid off for Salibasic as he obtained a top 10 junior ranking in all of Europe in the under-16 age group.
Salibasic’s most memorable result so far came in 2008 at the European Summer Cup, a team competition where juniors represent their countries. Salibasic and his doubles partner Damir Dzumhur defeated top players from countries like Switzerland and France en route to an appearance in the doubles final.
Results like those are what led to Salibasic garnering so much attention from Division I coaches in the United States.
Many nationally ranked teams showed interest in the young Bosnian before he signed with the Bulldogs, including No. 13 Georgia Tech, No. 21 Texas Tech and No. 23 Minnesota. Austin first noticed Salibasic as he was scouring results from ITF tournaments abroad and noticed he had posted a win over Duke recruit Raphael Hemmeler, who Austin had been recruiting during his time as the assistant coach at Wisconsin.
Austin contacted Salibasic and the two stayed in touch for the next few months. After watching video on Salibasic’s game and talking with other coaches in Europe, Austin offered him a spot in Drake’s lineup.
“Drake seemed to be the best combination of sports and academics,” Salibasic said.
Salibasic has been on campus the last couple of weeks practicing with the team and making adjustments to his game to better fit the hard courts of Division I tennis. Salibasic admits that the first few days of practice were hard on him, as the humidity in Des Moines is much greater than that of Stuttgart. However, Austin believes that he will be ready for the spring season once it arrives.
“He possesses a very big game which he is still growing into,” Austin said. “He’s a very disciplined guy and very coachable so I see him making the adjustment very quickly, though.”
Look for Salibasic’s thunderous serve and powerful forehand at the Drake Fall Invitational, which begins on Sept. 23 at the Roger Knapp Tennis Center.
Men’s tennis names three captains for 2011-2012
Men’s tennis head coach Evan Austin named three captains for the upcoming 2011-2012 season on Monday.
Austin announced juniors Jean Erasmus, Anis Ghorbel and James McKie will be the co-captains for the Bulldogs this season.