Milan Mihailovic: Clutch opportunity, clutch reward
Texas tennis senior Milan Mihailovic's decision to come to the United States and play college tennis at The University of Texas was an easy call, even if a vast, unknown world awaited him in Austin.
"I didn't know a single person in the United States when I came here," Mihailovic said, "but I knew that playing college tennis in the U.S. would create a lot of opportunities for me, and that's what happened."
Much as an unknown world awaited Mihailovic upon his arrival in Austin, so, too, did unknown possibilities present themselves to the Texas men's tennis coaching staff.
"I never saw Milan play junior tennis," said UT assistant coach Ricardo Rubio. "I knew a coach overseas who I lived with on occasion when I played pro tennis myself, and he told me about Milan. He had his mind set on coming to school in the United States and playing college tennis, so I really didn't have to convince too much to come to Texas."
For many foreign-born players, the opportunity to play at the college and professional levels in the United States is too good to pass up, and Mihailovic never hesitated to jump at the chance.
"I wanted to come to the U.S., and my Dad wanted me to come here, because in Serbia, you're somewhat limited in what you can do. I knew if I came here and got my education that I would have options that would remain open forever."
Opportunities don't often present themselves without a few bumps in the road somewhere, and for Mihailovic, the adjustment of living in the United States proved to be difficult early on, but it did not take long for Mihailovic to feel at home.
"I hated the first two months more than anything," Mihailovic admitted. "I was a little homesick and everything was different for me...the weather, my schedule...and I didn't know anyone here. I came from a completely different environment and it took me time to get used to everything, but once I got used to everything, I was OK."
The adjustment to life in the United States might have been a slow one for Mihailovic, but his acclimation to college tennis was not. Mihailovic totaled a 25-10 overall singles record during his freshman season, including a 14-6 mark in dual matches. He continued to progress during his sophomore season, when he compiled a 28-10 singles mark and a including 19-6 mark at No. 4 singles.
Mihailovic registered two of his biggest collegiate victories against Texas A&M and Baylor that season, as he clinched a share of the 2006 Big 12 regular-season title with a win over the Aggies' John Nallon and nailed down UT's 2006 Big 12 Championship victory with a win over Baylor's Will Ward on the Bears' home courts in Waco.
"Milan is a big reason why we've been in the top 10 throughout the last three seasons, and he's really proven himself as a clutch performer," UT coach Michael Center said. "He will go down as one of the all-time winningest players at Texas, and it's because he performs so well in the most difficult situations."
With a 93-44 career singles record heading into Sunday's NCAA quarterfinal match against Ohio State, Mihailovic wants to tack on a few more wins before his college career comes to a halt. He has developed a tight bond with his teammates, and it's that close-knit relationship that motivates Mihailovic to continue the Horns' NCAA postseason success.
"I don't want this run to end," Mihailovic said. "This tournament is special, and it's a great feeling to be here competing with the best in the country and giving it your best. We have a really close team and have developed relationships that will last the rest of our lives, so I want to do this for these guys, as much as anyone else.
And, if and when it gets down to crunch time again, little doubt remains over who needs to finish off the match.
"Milan is the guy you want out there when the match is on the line," Rubio said. "He gets this nastiness and toughness when his team needs him most. That's something you can't coach...it's just something some people are born with, and he has it -- the ability to perform through those crucial times."
After all, coming through in the clutch is hardly an unknown for Mihailovic. His decision to come to the United States and play for Texas was a beneficial opportunity for him, and the rewards have come for Mihailovic and Texas Tennis.