She was 3 years old when she first lifted a tennis racket — a Christmas gift from her father.
By 8, she was taking lessons, and, by 10, she was playing competitively. By the time she graduated from Juan Diego High School, she was a four-time MVP and four-time state champion, ranked among the top 70 high school tennis players in the nation.
However, in less than a month, Romina Nedakovic will leave competitive tennis behind for what she calls a “more stable” life. The USU women’s tennis player and senior said she is ready to live outside the court.
“I want to start a new chapter of my life,” she said. “I’m in a serious relationship, and he would support me, but at the same time it’s a strain. It’s so everywhere, living out of a hotel suitcase, and it’s not what I want in the end.”
Though she’s spent thousands of hours with racket in hand, those closest to her understand her decision to pursue other passions — something that will help her grow. Tank Conver, her boyfriend of more than two years, said though tennis has consumed much of Nedakovic’s life, it doesn’t define who she is.
“Tennis is a big part of Romina’s life, but it’s a small part, at the same time,” Conver said.
Though Conver and Nedakovic have been dating for almost two and a half years, their relationship extends back more than 14 years, when they both lived in the same apartment complex as children.
Conver said the first day he saw Nedakovic’s car pull up, he immediately asked if she wanted to play.
In the years since, he has seen her battle through every challenge that has come her way.
“Romina is the most driven person I’ve ever met, and I’ve met a lot of people,” Conver said. “She’ll never quit. Mediocre is never good enough for her.”
Her coaches see the same drive in Nedakovic as Conver does. Assistant coach Byran Marchant said her natural abilities and hard work manifest themselves when she’s playing.
“From a talent perspective, she gives us more depth on our team,” he said. “She’s a team leader. The girls like her.”
Marchant said next year the weight of losing Nedakovic, along with two other seniors, will be felt by the team.
“We’re going to miss her … (she’s) hard to replace. It’s been a good ride,” he said.
Nedakovic is rounding out her second year on USU’s tennis team, somewhere she never expected to be four years ago.
Her collegiate tennis career began at Brigham Young University, but because of a coaching change after her freshman year, “BYU politics” and honor code issues, she said her experience was ruined, causing her to take her talent elsewhere.
“Sometimes you think you’re going one direction in life and there’s a curve and suddenly you’re going the other way,” she said. “That’s what happened.”
Before transferring, she looked at Boise State and Denver but ended up picking USU because she said she wasn’t ready to live outside of Utah — an irony, considering she hails from Icici, Croatia.
Seeking better opportunity and a safer environment, her family moved to Utah when she was 6 years old.
“(Utah) is better for living and more safe for my kids,” said Romina’s mother, Sabina Nedakovic.
Both Romina and her mother said the move wasn’t without its challenges, though Romina admitted she probably had an easier time than her parents did with cultural adjustments.
“Thankfully, I didn’t understand all the struggles until I was older,” Romina said.
She said one of the biggest challenges of the move was that neither her nor her parents knew English.
“I knew Italian fluently, and my parents knew German fluently, but it was like ‘Oh, this language (isn’t) useful here,’” Romina said.
After getting used to having mountain ranges on all sides, the LDS culture and an absence of beaches, Romina said Utah was a natural fit for her family.
Conver said being in Logan has allowed Romina to relax and explore what she wants to do with her life.
“She’s going out with friends and having a good time,” he said. “She was always stressed, but (now) she’s figured out what she wants to do.”
Sabina said Romina has manifested natural athletic talent since she was a small child, succeeding in everything from volleyball to golf.
Though both parents have encouraged her to follow her passions, Sabina said they never forced Romina to play tennis — it was something she chose for herself.
“I’m so happy with what she’s done, but it’s nothing we’ve pushed,” she said.
How does tennis play into Nedakovic’s future?
“With the economy being so iffy, my ambitions are to make it in the broadcast world,” Nedakovic said, referring to her journalism major. “But I wouldn’t mind teaching other kids the passion of tennis. That’s always a fallback.”
Property of the The Utah Statesman