Stefan Bojic is considered the first tennis freestyler ever. He pioneered a movement that gained traction all around the world. With over 70,000 followers, Stefan has made a name for himself in the tennis world. Before his career began to take off, the Serbian native played college tennis for Radford and St. John's where he made a lot of memorable and instrumental experiences. In this interview, get to know Stefan and learn more about this unique career path. Enjoy!
Thank you for taking the time to do this interview. To begin with, tell us a little bit about your college days. Before joining Radford and eventually St. John’s, you won the U16 national championships in Serbia. What made you decide to go to college?
Back home, the conditions weren't the best. Especially, the financial ones. There was no financial support for me back home in Serbia. It just made the most sense for me from both a timing and financial perspective. Honestly, I never saw myself not go to college.
How did you adjust to some of the cultural differences? I assume Serbia is quite different than the United States?
I think the American culture is quite different but the hardest part was simply being away from home for the first time. When you are this young, you can't just fly home all the time and spend $700-$1,000 each time on just the flight alone.
For me, it was pretty hard getting used to college. I got homesick, had to deal with a lot of new pressure and new situations. I think it took me a year and a half to start feeling comfortable and relaxed. And even towards the end, I always had a bit of "nostalgia".
Talk a little bit more about your college tennis career. Can you pinpoint any specific memories or experiences?
When I came to St. John's, we weren't really known as a tennis powerhouse. During my time there, we managed to put St. John's on the map, earned ourselves a first school ranking, and even made it as high as 50 in the country.
I remember the moment we got ranked for the first time like it was yesterday. We just beat Princeton and actually found out in the van about it. Although I lost my singles match, I had something to be really excited about. This collective experience of joy really stuck with me.
Overall, did you enjoy your time as a student-athlete?
What I enjoyed most about being a student-athlete is that everything is technically set up for you. This really enables you to easily stay on top of things. I like school, I like practicing, and there wasn't really too much to worry about as long as you took care of things. You don't have to worry about where to live really, how to get food on the table, where to stay when you travel, etc. It is much different on the pro tour.
What about the flip side? Any particular challenges you can talk about and how you overcame them?
The biggest challenge was really handling my fear of possibly losing my scholarship when I wouldn't perform well. At one point, I was on a 5-6 match losing streak and was moving down the lineup to be #5. So, at one point, I walked up to my coaches and asked them specifically if I have to worry about losing my scholarship based on my performance on the court. And they pretty much assured me that I don't have to. Once I had this conversation, I was able to get rid of that fear, won the remaining games of the spring season, and the following season, I played #1 for us.
So, let's get into your career. You are known as the "first tennis free-styler" and have a really big following on social media. How did you start with it and why?
It's true, I am considered the pioneer of freestyle tennis. I started it as a project and just tried to figure out how to make it work. Almost like a puzzle.
Right after college, I lived in New York with a family whose father was a very big inspiration to me. He was really the one that mentored, guided, and pushed me down that path. It was a really fun period in my life where I just tried to develop all these new tricks.
If you think about your experiences as a tennis free-styler, which one comes to your mind first?
Overall, I just really enjoy this feeling of accomplishing something and doing things that no one has ever done before.
One particular moment I remember right away was shooting a commercial with HEAD. On day 1, I just worked a little bit with Maria Sharapova and Sloane Stephens. But on day 2, I was feeling more relaxed and all the HEAD players showed up. The last one I interacted with that day was Richard Gasquet. When I showed him my tricks and saw his reactions, it just made me feel really great.
Afterwards, I went home, sat down at the pool, and just tried to recap what happened. I realized that I'm actually creating something really cool that even players like Gasquet seem to enjoy. So, the next day, I went back super relaxed and we all did a really great job. And I mean, seeing someone like Djokovic drop the racquet and be impressed was just incredibly fulfilling.
Speaking of... How does it feel to perform in front of all-time greats like Novak Djokovic or Maria Sharapova?!
They were all super cool and incredibly nice to me. Honestly, I think, if they would run this whole industry, my path would be a lot easier. *smile* But for real, they all had a lot of appreciation for my skills.
Try to explain to us what tennis and tennis free-styling means to you. We assume you have a lot of passion for this profession. Tell us a bit about it.
There is a lot more to tennis free-styling than it may seem at first sight. I try to give this a lot of meaning because if I would do it halfheartedly, I would give up very quickly. After my college career, I tried to fully re-connect with this true love I had for the sport when I was a child.
Tennis is a brutal sport. You get defeated a LOT and I think a lot of players lose that passion for the sport as they begin to experience those defeats more and more. I figured out a way to re-fuel that fire inside of me and actually integrate some of that playfulness that I think professional sports often takes away. Currently, I'm writing a book why I think this is much more important and how this is going to impact the sport of tennis both culturally and physically.
Finally, do you have any piece of advice for aspiring tennis players?
What I learned from my journey and being around these athletes is that it comes down to motivation and how much you want it. If you say you really want to do it but never make the time for it, chances are you are probably not truly wanting it that badly. In a sense, you are the master of your own fate. So, figure out how badly you want something and then give it all you got.