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The first full year of Katarina Jokic's professional career has turned around and it's largely thanks to a decision to play on the UTR Pro Tennis Tour.
In January, Jokic (UTR Rating 11.02) entered the UTR Pro Tennis Tour Atlanta $25K for some match play to get her season underway. The 23-year-old Serbian would not drop a set on her way to her first pro title in six years. The result earned her a wild card into the qualifying of an ITF W60K, taking place the following week at the same venue (the Rome Tennis Center at Berry College).
Georgia is a second home for Jokic: She was a six-time All-American at the University of Georgia, graduating just last year. Now with a training base established in Charleston, the trip to Rome (just outside of Atlanta) is convenient.
"I had a host family so it was a great way to play matches and not spend any money on hotels," Jokic said. "Then when I saw the wild card, I was like, 'OK, this is even better!' I ended up playing the ITF with no plans whatsoever: I had a place ticket to go home on Sunday and I was playing the first round of qualifying on a Monday.
"I really enjoy playing the PTT event. I think getting those matches in really helped for me to play good tennis in the ITF."
Gaining Momentum for 2022
Jokic won both of her qualifying matches at the Rome ITF W60K in third-set super tiebreaks before upsetting top seed Renata Zarazua in the first round. Zarazua is just outside of the WTA 100, making it one of the best wins of Jokic’s career.
"It's crazy because I was down two match points in the first round of qualifying," Jokic said, adding that her win over Zarazua is her best win since turning pro.
She then beat former University of Michigan star Emina Bektas, before falling in three sets to Caroline Dolehide.
The two weeks were Jokic’s strongest so far as a full-time pro, although she’s had success before as an amateur. Before going to college, she won two ITF W10K’s, including her first title in Croatia when she was just 15 years old.
"I wanted to go pro and I didn't even know anything about college," Jokic said. "Then I had knee surgery when I was 17 and it took me a year to recover. I didn't know if I'd ever recover so I wanted to have a backup and then play. I think I made a good decision."
Reaching the Top in Athens
Jokic did her research by considering 50 schools and taking four visits before committing to be a Bulldog at the University of Georgia. She had visited the United States a few times and felt most at home in Athens surrounded by the friendly atmosphere and opportunities a great athletic program provides.
After settling into her new life in the fall of 2017, the Serbian began her career at the No. 1 spot. The following season, her college career hit staggering heights. She won the ITA National Fall Championships, clinched the ITA National Women's Team Indoor Championships, and reached the final of the NCAA Individual Championships. Jokic finished her sophomore year ranked No. 1 in the ITA rankings, becoming the second women's player in Bulldog history to do so.
"After that season, I realized I can play with the best players in college," Jokic said. "I played a pro tournament in Orlando and I beat a girl who is now Top 50 (Camila Osorio). In my junior year when COVID happened, I beat some very good players in an exhibition like Taylor Townsend and Sachia Vickery. Tennis is the one thing I love doing so I figured I'll try."
Facing Pro Challenges Head On
Still, leaving the Georgia nest to go pro after graduating last year (with a Bachelor's Degree in risk management) was challenging. She had to set up a new home base, finance her own travel, figure out her schedule, and gain the confidence to keep going despite some early losses.
"Right after college, I had a tough time and I was not playing great," Jokic said. "There was so much going on and I thought maybe I made a wrong decision going pro. But, I love what I'm doing so now I'm feeling better about tennis. It was just hard at first.
"I just wanted to focus on this year and get ready. These past two weeks were a good start."
The PTT in Atlanta last month was Jokic's first tournament since November. Next, she has ITF and PTT events in Mexico, Ecuador, and Charleston on her radar.
"I would love to play more PTT events," she said. "You can earn money and get matches, and use that to play ITFs. There's going to be a PTT in Charleston in March. I want to play because it's where I train and I can get more matches in."