All the things you probably didn’t know about the tennis history of Banjaluka

Mon 20 Mar 2023

The history of one city is not reflected only in monuments and cultural heritage but its sports tradition as well. If there is a city that holds its sports tradition close to its heart, then it is the city that lies along the Vrbas River.

Many renowned athletes have added to the recognition of sports in Banjaluka and they have all contributed to Banjaluka’s The City of Sports nickname. Boxers Marijan Beneš and Anton Josipović, handball players Mladen Bojinović, Jerko Karadža, Pero Perović, Milorad Karalić and Abas Arslanagić, football players such as Borac goalkeeper Slobodan Karalić, coach Ilija Miljuš, tennis staff member Mišo Radaković, chess player Enver Bukić, as well as, as of recently, European basketball champion and Olympic medal winner Saša Čađo, to name but a few, are people who have spread the glory of Banjaluka with their sports achievements. Banjaluka is The City of Sports with as many as eight Olympic gold winners who have been honoured with the Olympic Arch at Borik Sports Hall. They all have a special place in the history of Banjaluka. The upcoming events to be held by mid-April will only add to that history.

Marijan Beneš

In addition to football, handball and boxing, tennis also holds a special place in the sports tradition of Banjaluka. That is precisely the reason why the city that lies along the Vrbas River has been intentionally chosen to host the most important ,not only tennis but also the most important sports event this year in Republika Srpska.

In the period from April 16-26, Banjaluka will host a prestigious tournament in the ATP World Tour 250 series, the Srpska Open. Having in mind that World No. 1 and an honorary citizen of Banjaluka Novak Đoković is scheduled to play at the tournament, we can easily imagine the amount of attention the tournament will garner from all over the world.

Although this is the first time that an ATP World Tour 250 series tournament is taking place in Banjaluka, the city on the Vrbas River can boast with a long tennis history.

The records show Banjaluka has taken the first tennis steps back at the beginning of the last century. In the same period, only officers had the privilege to play tennis. Much later, tennis has been adopted by general population.

In the last two decades, tennis has become popular in Banjaluka. Owing to the Srpska Open Challenger, a tournament initially organized by Tennis Club Mladost that later became a professional ATP Challenger Tour championship. Banjaluka has been the host of this tournament for 21 years.

This tournament is played on clay courts. Former participants include Felix Auger-Aliassime, Diego Schwartzman, Fabio Fognini, Janko Tipsarević, Viktor Troicki, Damir Džumhur, Ilija Bozoljac, Daniel Gimeno-Traver, Victor Hanescu, Thomaz Bellucci, Aljaz Bedene, Laslo Đere, Miomir Kecmanović, Filip Krajinović and many more.

When it comes to Serbian tennis players, Banja Luka Challenger has been won in the past by Ilija Bozoljac (2008), Viktor Troicki (2014) and Dušan Lajović (2015). The current captain of the Serbian team Viktor Troicki played in the finals in 2005 as well but he was defeated by Greek tennis player Vasilis Mazarakis in two sets, 6:2, 6:2.

Viktor Troicki, Banjaluka, Čelendžer

The best results after their participation at a tennis tournament in the largest city in Republika Srpska have been achieved by Felix Auger-Aliassime, Janko Tipsarević and Diego Schwartzman. Canadian Auger-Aliassime was only 17 when he played in Banjaluka and attained his career-best ATP ranking, the 6th in the world, in November last year. When it comes to Janko Tipsarević and Diego Schwartzman, career-best ATP rankings for both of them was the 8th place in the world. Janko became the 8th best player in the world in 2012. His first time playing the tennis tournament in Banjaluka occurred ten years before that when he had to go through the qualifying rounds before he reached the main draw. Diego Schwartzman, played in Banjaluka in 2013 when he was 21, and was ranked the world No. 8 in in October 2020 when he reached the semi-finals of Roland Garros, his best result at a Grand Slam so far. He reached the finals in Banjaluka but lost to Aljaz Bedene.

Dijego Švarcman, Draško Milinović i Željka Cvijanović

In addition to the three abovementioned players, Fabio Fognini also achieved excellent results. He was world No. 9 in 2019. Many Italians were glad to visit Banjaluka and some even came back several times such as Simone Vagnozzi who played the Challenger more than ten times. Other Italians include Andreas Seppi, Filippo Volandri and Marco Cecchinato.

The Spaniards have also been very successful in the city on the Vrbas River and they almost always reached the final stages of the tournament. Ten years ago, Pablo Carreño Busta was just entering the tennis scene, and in 2017 he reached his career-best ATP ranking, world No. 10, and played in the semi-finals of the US Open twice.

Aslan Karatsev also participated at the tournament. He lost in the fourth round in 2014, and then, four years later, after he got through qualifying rounds, met with No. 1 seed Juan Ignacio Londero in the first round, but had to retire in the third set.

At the same time with men’s single matches at Banja Luka Challenger, doubles teams matches are played as well.

The best known tennis name in the doubles category is most certainly Nenad Zimonjić who has been World No. 1 in this category for years.

In addition to Nenad Zimonjić, also former No. 1 in the doubles category, Jamie Murray,  the brother of better-known Andy Murray, also played in Banjaluka. Also one of the most interesting finals in this category took place in 2009. South African Dustin Brown who played with Austrian Rainer Eitzinger celebrated the victory against Ismar Gorčić from Bosnia and Herzegovina and Simone Vagnozzi from Italy with 2:0 in sets.

When it comes to the best Serbian tennis player and World No. 1 Novak Đoković, he has not played Banja Luka Challenger before but far from it that he has skipped the tennis centre in the past.

Novak Đoković and Viktor Troicki played the charity tennis match in Banjaluka on November 30, 2009 and the proceeds went to children with disabilities at the Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Institute “Dr Miroslav Zotović”.

There is no doubt that the arrival of World No. 1 will cause euphoria among real tennis fans in Banjaluka because Đoković is a magnet, not only for the media, but for the audience as well. That is why the organizers of the Srpska Open expect full stands from the start to the end of the tournament and hope to create a record to be written down in the history of tennis in Banjaluka.

Citizens of Banjaluka will proudly wear the remains of red clay on their shoes from April 16-23 whereas famous tennis players among participants guarantee a spectacle to remember.

Please come and support the Srpska Open. Let’s write history together!