A long way from home, senior tennis star Ivan Salec is almost done setting records and scoring wins for the Radford University men’s tennis team.
Salec, who lived in Croatia until he was recruited by RU Head Coach Mike Anderson, is now second on the all-time leaderboard for wins in the regular season with 105. Salec only trails current RU Assistant Coach Martin Sayer in that column, and his 19-1 record in the spring season is one of the best individual records in school single-season history.
“A big reason why I am so far away from home is because there are other Croatians here on the team [junior Igor Ogrizek is also from Croatia],” Salec said. “I didn’t speak hardly any English coming out of high school, so I knew it would be difficult, but they helped me along the way. Coach [Anderson] was nice as well. He flew over to Croatia to talk to me before I decided to come here, and he was really nice. He told me everything about Radford, and I’m glad he did. I’m enjoying it here very much.”
Anderson, entering his 15th year with the team, was recently voted the Big South conference Coach of the Year for 2011.
In addition to being a dominant singles player, Salec is also known for being just one half of one of the best doubles combinations in the Big South. Salec and his doubles partner, sophomore ThomasDehaen, were recently ranked as the best doubles combination in the Big South, going 6-0 as a team this season in the Big South. Also, since Salec became a sophomore in 2008, RU has lost just one game inside of the Big South.
Despite being one of the most decorated student athletes to ever suit up as a member of any RU team, Salec remains humble with his opinion of his legacy and his future.
“I think I did really good, looking back,” Salec said. “This year, my senior year, has been my best since I began here at RU. I just try to lead the team and be an example to everyone. As for Thomas and myself, we are just good doubles partners. We’re hanging out all the time off of the court, and the entire team is like a big family. Coach [Anderson] is sort of like our big ‘Papa.’ We’re always going to eat together, so everyone just tries to be a good teammate.”
As for the immediate future, Salec seems to have a few goals in mind. The first and most obvious is to win the Big South tournament, then move on to the NCAA tournament where he has competed each of the past two years.
“I would love to win our conference and then go to the NCAA finals,” Salec said. “This year, we have a great team. Everyone is just so good. We’re looking forward to the Big South tournament next week, because that’s the first step.”
RU will certainly go into the Big South tournament with momentum as they have won fifteen straight on their way to a 19-3 overall record. Still, even with all of his experience on the court, Salec says that he still gets some of the same feelings he had when he first started playing competitively.
“I really love to compete, and I love to play,” Salec said. “I’m still a little bit jittery before each match, but I just can’t wait to start playing. I really just enjoy it so much, playing on the court. I always hope that I’m able to do what I know I’m capable of.”
During breaks, Salec goes back home to Croatia where he visits his parents and older sister, Monika. According to Salec, his parents and other family members have been extremely supportive of his education in the States and of his tennis career.
“My family really motivated me to come here because when Coach Anderson talked to me, I immediately said ‘no’,” Salec said. “I mean, I didn’t even speak English at the time. But then my parents were like, ‘come on,’ so I reconsidered my decision and I came here. I’m so glad that I did, too.”
When asked about his plans after graduation, Salec held nothing back; he wants to go professional.
“After graduation, I’m going to try and play internationally,” Salec said. “I want to go to Futures, then to Challengers and try to earn some points. Maybe someday in the future I’ll then have a chance to play in the ATP [Association of Tennis Professionals].”
Despite the challenges that he’s faced, having to learn a second language, going to school thousands of miles away from home, then having to claw his way up from being a rookie freshman to being a bona fide star, Salec still has one thing left to say.
“The RU community has been great during my time here,” Salec said. “I would like to thank the coaches, the fans, the athletic department, everybody. Everyone was just very nice from the get go, and so supportive of me. I feel like it’s just a big family here. The whole campus, I feel like this is my second family. I’m sad that I have to leave, but I am happy on the other hand for all that has happened.”
Salec, along with the rest of the RU men’s tennis team, will compete in the Big South tournament starting on Thursday, April 21 in Rock Hill, South Carolina.