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 »  Home  »  Sports  »  (E) A long, perilous road from Croatia to Idaho
(E) A long, perilous road from Croatia to Idaho
By Nenad N. Bach | Published  05/18/2002 | Sports | Unrated
(E) A long, perilous road from Croatia to Idaho

 

Zeljka Vidic

By NICHOLAS K. GERANIOS
.c The Associated Press 

MOSCOW, Idaho (AP) - When Zeljka Vidic is handed her diploma, she will have taken one more step on what has been a long and perilous road.

She endured war and exile, illness and poverty. Her family barely escaped ``ethnic cleansing'' in Croatia. Half a world away, she became a tennis player at Idaho, and will graduate Saturday.

``In 16 years I've had some extraordinary people play for me,'' tennis coach Greg South said. ``She is head and shoulders above the rest.''

On Sept. 11, tennis practice at Idaho was canceled after the terrorist attacks. Vidic showed up the next day wearing a big blue ribbon, South recalled. She told her teammates how she had survived war with her humanity intact.

``I chose not to hate,'' South recalled Vidic saying. ``Instead, I chose to fight back for freedom and a betterlife.''

Vidic, known as Z around campus, was born in Vukovar, in eastern Croatia, in 1979. Her parents and older brother had a comfortable life there until 1991.

Then an invading Yugoslav army laid a three-month siege and began indiscriminate shelling of the city. About 1,700 Croats were killed when the invaders and local Serbs overwhelmed the city.

About 22,000 Croats, including Vidic and her family, were expelled in late 1991 by the new rulers. Her family spent seven years as refugees in Zagreb, struggling with poverty and the memories of the brutality they witnessed.

In 1995, the U.N. war crimes tribunal indicted three former Yugoslav army officers for crimes against humanity during the siege of Vukovar. The trial of one is under way in The Hague, Netherlands. Former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic also is on trial for alleged war crimes committed by Serb forces in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo.

Vidic grows quiet and uncomfortable when asked about the siege of Vukovar, which often pitted Croats against Serbian neighbors.

``Somebody wanted to hurt my family,'' she said. ``We assumed it was a neighbor.''

There was an attempt to bomb the family's home.

``People were just crazy,'' she said. ``Everybody would just hate everybody.''

In Zagreb, Vidic earned a spot in a tennis club with a coach. She was the only tennis player in her family. She finished high school in 1997 and wanted to play in the United States. South learned of Vidic from friends in Europe, and watched a videotape.

``It was obvious there was a huge talent there,'' South said.

But over time, he came to respect her even more for her character and attitude.

``She went through some very difficult things,'' South said.``I believe tennis helped hersurvive.''

Just before she left for Idaho in 1998, her father, Stjepan, had a stroke. Vidic did not want to leave, but her father urged her to take her scholarship and head overseas.

``It was not easy to leave him,'' she said.

The wheat fields, wide-open spaces and natural beauty of Idaho immediately appealed toVidic. She also reveled in the chance to get an education and play tennis at the same time.

``We traveled a lot and I saw a lot of things in the U.S.,'' Vidic said. She enjoyed trips to California and to Seattle, but ``I really like Hawaii.''

She also loved playing with a team, but she understood what was required of her.

``You have to win,'' she said.

Win she did. As a junior, she led the Vandals with a 15-4 record. After recovering from knee surgery in January, Vidic was 16-10 in singles and 20-10 in doubles during her senior season.

``She has the best backhand of anybody who ever played for me,'' South said.

Even at Idaho she could not escape her past.

During one of her first matches, she was nervous at playing a woman from Yugoslavia, South said. When he asked her why, Vidic replied that the woman was a cousin of a Serbian boy who had terrorized her old neighborhood in Vukovar after the invasion. But both players came off the court laughing.

Vidic finished her career with 41 victories in singles and a school record 41 wins in doubles, 
despite missing nearly all of her sophomore season with torn knee ligaments from a skiing 
accident. That injury led to three knee operations.

This month, Vidic was chosen as the northwest winner of the Intercollegiate Tennis Association's Arthur Ashe Sportsmanship award. Only eight of the 4,000 women playing Division I tennis win the award.

In April, Vidic was among 174 athletes around the country who won an NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship Award. It provides a $6,000 scholarship next year as she pursues a master's degree in sports and recreation management at the university.

The 23-year-old Vidic graduates with a degree in finance, and would like to become a U.S. citizen. This summer she plans to teach tennis and is looking for other work.

``I like Moscow in the summer. It's like a little oasis for me,'' she said. ``I feel at peace here.''

Her family has returned to its home in Vukovar, but the situation there is still tense, Vidic said. Croatians and Serbs live largely separate lives in the city now.

``We are trying to forgive,'' she said. ``But we will not forget.''

05/17/02 02:24 EDT
Copyright 2002 The Associated Press. 

Star Athlete from Vukovar in Idaho

Argonaut Sports
Tonya Snyder, Sports Desk snyd5127@uidaho.eduFebruary 2-5, 1999

Tennis Trio looks to Tear up California 

By Sean Campbell 
University of Idaho Argonaut 
Friday February 5, 1999 
In the sports world few can name the four tournaments that make up the 
Grand Slam (that’s tennis lingo), let alone who has won these 
internationally prestigious events. In fact, many see tennis as a 
mindless, erratic game where two people swat at a little green ball, as 
if it was a pesky fly, amidst a chorus of primal grunts. 
Oh contraire; it is a physical test of one’s endurance, a challenge of 
precision accuracy, and a chess match of cerebral warfare. 
So how will the Vandal women’s tennis team fare as they embark upon a 
whirlwind road trip that has them competing against Pacific, San Jose 
St., and Santa Barbara on consecutive days? 
“We’re going to have our hands full, but we will compete with them, and 
we will compete well,” said head coach Greg South. 
South’s foreshadowing may prove true on both counts. He considers both 
Pacific and Santa Barbara to be strong teams, each vying for the Big 
West title. However, the Vandals will bring to California a young but talented team 
lead by senior Katrina Burke. “She’s as good as anyone in the 
conference. She could be the best player,” South rightfully said, Burke 
was the No. 2 player in the conference last year. 
Amidst a flurry of backhand flurries, Burke spoke of her final year as a 
Vandal. “I know I can be just as good as them [my opponents] on any 
given day.” After three years of analyzing her opponents weaknesses from across the 
net, her words may echo in their ears this season. If not her 
aggressive, net charging play will leave them in a fit of dizzying 
frustration. The Australian native Burke is not the only spice South can draw out of 
his cauldron. Depth is the word he uses to describe his melting pot of 
talent. Freshmen Pooja Deshmukh and Zeljka Vidic will vie for the 2 and 3 spots 
while Glorianna Serrano, Cameron Erickson, and Barbara Perez-Martinez 
will fill out the rest of the lineup. South emphatically pointed out 
that none of the spots are set in stone; instead they will be in a state 
of rotation. All in all, they pose a formidable lineup for all 
challengers. Another challenge is a lesson in geography. Deshmukh’s graceful baseline 
play was honed in her home country of India. 
Her father began coaching her on the fine points of ground strokes at 
the age of eleven. Over the years Pooja ascended the ranks of India’s 
tournament circuit. In so doing, she dethroned the number one junior 
player, as well as conquering the national doubles championship. 
Before arriving in Moscow ten days ago, and stepping foot on snow for 
the first time, she was ranked No. 6 in India. 
With this in mind she humbly spoke of he goals for this season. “I’m 
just trying to establish myself and work on my weaknesses.” Only a 
freshman, her future looks sweet. 
Fellow freshman Zeljka Vidic may be the smoldering candles on the 
multicultural cake that South is baking. In Croatian her name means 
“wish”. “My parents wanted a daughter, I granted their wish,” she said with a 
blush. Zeljka began her apprenticeship in the art of serve and volley at what 
she considers a late age of ten. If so, this Croatian has developed 
quickly, dazzling her home country on the creamy clay courts of Eastern 
Europe. As she makes the transition to the hard courts of the US, South beams 
with excitements when he talks about her ability to excel as an all 
court player, who has a natural feel for the ball. 
All six women may be divided by oceans and massive chunks of land, but 
no dissension looms in the shadows of this team that Deshmukh calls, 
“absolutely internationally diverse.” Instead they are a close group who 
look forward to learning about each other’s cultures and languages. 
What also draws them together is South’s coaching philosophy. “We stay 
with a goal focus, not an outcome focus.” It is a philosophy that 
emphasizes performance achievement, and individual accountability. His 
philosophy may differ with some who still cling to the “just win, baby” 
approach, but his approach has been successful. 
After months of waking at seven o’clock in the morning for physical 
training, along with countless hours of practice, the Vandals are 
confident about their chances over the weekend. 
“I think this trip will be successful if we play smart,” said Burke. If 
intelligence has anything to do with success [combined GPA of 3.17] look 
for all of their wishes to be granted in California.

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