5 min read
A lot of players on the PTT are aspiring pros, college athletes, and up-and-coming juniors. Deni Zmak (UTR Rating 13.30) has a different story: He’s a father with a full-time job and a tennis pedigree that earned him two PTT titles in 2021 and a 38-7 record.
Zmak is based in Croatia and likes to keep his travel local for the sake of his business and family. Making the trip to Zdar, Croatia and Portoroz, Slovenia for PTTs is not taxing on his budget or time. The farthest he has ventured was Denmark, where he combined business with tennis.
Discovering Tennis That Suits His Schedule
In his first-ever PTT event last June, the 32-year-old reached the final of the PTT Croatia Men’s $25K Clay 1. He played a total of seven events during the 2021 season, finishing as runner-up four times and champion twice.
"I had a great experience at the first PTT tournament," Zmak said. "So afterward, I simply decided to play all the tournaments that are close to my hometown."
The PTT in Europe works well with his schedule and rewards him for his efforts as opposed to when he tried to make it on the ITF Tour. He played just one ITF M15 at the start of 2021, down from two ITFs appearances in 2020 and three in 2019. He only played tournaments nearby, as his focus is more on his two children and earning money.
"I enjoy it still," he said. "In this period of my life, I'm not pursuing tennis as much anymore, but I'm using the chances to play those tournaments that are close to my home. It's also good because I can also get some extra money for playing well, so it's a perfect combination."
Juggling Tennis with the Real World
Zmak has a job as a software engineer and started a business with his wife selling luxury auto furniture. Pursuing a full-time professional career would be too great a sacrifice at this stage of his life, but playing PTT events is both manageable and fruitful.
He does some coaching and hitting to pad his income and to help keep him in peak shape.
"I don't have time to practice," Zmak said. "I just go and coach a little bit and this coaching I use like as a practice, but it's never as good as when you practice for yourself. Then I go to another PTT event, and can practice at most of them because it's one match per day. It's perfect, and in the afternoon you can still do a workout."
Turning His Struggles into Positives
Born and raised in Croatia, Zmak was on the pro path as a teenager with going to college in the United States not a popular option for someone from his region or in his generation. But he injured both of his hands in an accident and couldn’t play for three years.
He looks back at his journey in a positive light since he was able to finish high school and was eligible to play for an NAIA school, graduating with a degree from Embry-Riddle University in 2016.
“Now, whenever some I talked to young players I tell them it would really be good for you to take the opportunity and go to college,” Zmak said. "I would suggest everyone to go because you get an education and great practice. You get so many matches, you can gain so much experience, and if you're really good you can still play tournaments even while you're studying."
Guiding the Next Generation
He would also recommend youngsters to compete in PTT events, with the unique round-robin format offering something no other prize money or pro tournament can.
“PTT is so much better for young players money-wise but also experience-wise because you play three-to-five matches,” Zmak said. “Now they go to tournaments and lose first round and that’s it, just one match. With PTT, you always get a chance to play with different, better players. I think that's really important for young players, especially in this region."
Though he's the wiser older brother for most of his peers, Zmak isn't done with tennis just yet. This year, he picked up right where he left off in 2021 by reaching the final of the PTT $25K Croatia during the week of Feb. 28. He followed that run with a return to the ITF tour, winning three rounds of qualifying at an M25 in Rovinj, Croatia.