Radunovic Speaks Volumes

May 10, 2010

Soccer is often christened 'the world's game,' but tennis can't be far behind. The current top-10 on the WTA tour features women from Belgium, Australia, Russia, Serbia, Denmark, and America. All told there are fourteen different nations represented in the top-25. Roger Federer is known to conduct his post-match press conferences in English, French, German, and Swiss German.

Then you have the Washington women's tennis roster which includes women from Brazil, the Netherlands, China, and Serbia and it's clear that tennis is quite the melting pot. All this makes Vanja Radunovic feel perfectly at ease, and the Husky junior has taken her international background and is starting to shape it into the early stages of a career.

A native of Podgorica, Montenegro, Radunovic grew up in a part of the world that underwent great chance and conflict over the past twenty years. Evidence of this was seen on Radunovic's own uniform, as she has played tennis for her national team throughout her life, first competing for Yugoslavia, then Serbia & Montenegro, and now for Montenegro, which gained independence in 2006.

The game of tennis has taken Radunovic to live extended periods in Italy, Austria, and now the United States. A byproduct of working on serves and slices, Radunovic developed an innate skill for languages, and is now fluent in Italian, Spanish, English, and Serbian.

Her set of skills and experiences have become an increasing passion for Radunovic and this summer she'll be putting them to work as an intern with the United Nations Development Program back home in Montenegro.

'I would definitely like to work in such an organization like United Nations or World Bank or NGOs,' says Radunovic. 'It's not just that I've traveled but I've had an opportunity to see different cultures and adapt to them so I feel like that's something that I want to do in my life, interact with different cultures and speak to different people and try to find a solution and better relationships between countries, especially for my country which is really small and still developing.'

Radunovic details how Montenegro is first seeking acceptance into the European Union, which could be achieved within two years. As soon as she finishes up her final exams this quarter, she will head back home, where she hasn't been in nearly a year, to work in human resources with the U.N.

The political strife that affected the region throughout the 90's was centered mostly in Serbia. But many of her friends were affected, and an interest in world affairs was sparked.

'I remember our president getting an agreement for Montenegro to not be hit,' says Radunovic. 'I have a lot of friends in Serbia and it was really bad for them. But other than that I think our history's really interesting after all what happened, and for me it was easier to adapt in so many cultures because I went through so much in my country and my culture.'

As a promising junior tennis player, Radunovic needed to leave home to find better resources such as coaching, facilities, and competition. She got on the radar of some Italian coaches by winning a prestigious 14-and-under tournament in Rome. That earned her a scholarship at an Italian club called Panda, where she played for three years, going home for school and traveling back to Rome for tennis.

'That was a big experience for me,' Radunovic says. 'When I lived there I felt Italian honestly. Everyone thought I was Italian because I spoke with a Rome accent. It was really, really fun. As soon as I go home I always go to see my friends and also play tennis with my coach.'

Next came a stint in Austria where she earned another stipend to train for a year and a half at a tennis academy. Unfortunately, the subtleties of the German language are one that she never quite mastered.

'I couldn't learn German because all the players were international so they all spoke English. It's a shame but it's okay because I didn't really like German,' Radunovic says with a laugh.

Spanish was added to her repertoire through more unconventional and dramatic means.

'I used to watch those Spanish soaps and movies and that's how I learned Spanish actually. Because there were subtitles in Montenegrin and I would watch a lot of those I guess (laughs) and I really learned. It's pretty similar to Italian but it is also different. So when I talk in Spanish I need to think first in Italian and I need more time, but I definitely understand everything.'

After her time in Austria, Radunovic was faced with another huge decision. She wanted to continue her tennis career while gaining an education, something that doesn't frequently go hand in hand in European universities. So she came to America to soak up yet another new culture. The sheer scale of the campus was eye-opening.

'When I talked to Jill (Hultquist) she seemed really nice to me. I liked the coaching staff and I liked the team,' says Radunovic. 'Honestly for me from Montenegro that has 600,000 people, to see such a big campus was unlike anything I had seen in my life. You can't even compare the campuses with my country which is just one building for a university. It's just very different. I remember I called my mom and was like, `Oh there's a fountain in the middle of campus, it's amazing, I love it!' It was a really nice day, too (laughs).'

Radunovic is now studying international relations and is considering a double majoring in Italian, but while both of those seem like a natural fit, at first she thought she would study business before political science captured her interests.

On the court, Radunovic has had her ups and downs, but her junior season ended on an uptick. She got a chance to start in the doubles lineup against Washington State in the final match of the regular season and posted a key win teaming with Aleksandra Malovic. Radunovic saw significant action her freshman year, earning a combined 12 dual wins in singles and doubles, but she lost a large part of her sophomore season to an injury.

'I totally lost my confidence on the court (after the injury),' she admits. 'It's been a struggle for me, but not anything new for anyone. Everyone has different periods of tennis crisis. But I really enjoy practice with the coaches and such a nice team. I feel like I improve a lot, it's just that I have to let myself play.

The Washington State match was a microcosm of some of her difficulties, but very encouraging in that she still came through with a road win.

'At Washington State I had a chance to play, and it was very emotional. I get very emotional during the matches, that's why I can't let myself play a hundred percent,' Radunovic says. 'But during the match it was really good because our energy was up and I got to play with Malovic who I played with my freshman year all the time. It was fun and I played well and I really hope I'm going to get more chances. I'm looking forward to next year and I'm going to work hard during the summer. It's getting a lot better.'

When she is back in Europe this summer, the sport that has taken her to so many places will open a path to another new locale, as Radunovic expects to travel with the Montenegro National Team to compete in the European Championships in Portugal. Tennis has taken her a long way, but it is her own skills as a communicator that will continue to shape her future.