Feb. 28, 2011
By Matthew Magill
After spending the fall abroad, Boris Conkic has returned to Knoxville in top form, helping the Vols reach a 10-1 mark to start the 2011 season.
The senior from Novi Sad, Serbia recently collected his 100th singles and 100th doubles win, becoming just the fourth player in Tennessee history to do so.
Conkic also rides a career-best 12 match win streak going into Friday's Southeastern Conference opener against Alabama at 2 p.m. at Barksdale Stadium.
Conkic talks his milestone wins, the spread of techno in the locker room and his signature pink shoes in this week's Q&A.
Q: At the National Indoors, you earned both your 100th doubles win and 100th singles win, the fourth person ever to do that in Tennessee history. What does that mean to you?
A: It means a lot especially because I play for the University of Tennessee and we have one of the best tennis programs ever. There are so many great players who have played for this school, and I'm just honored to be amongst them. I don't really like to talk about numbers. It's just about working hard, and wins come as a product of that work.
Q: Your senior class--you, John-Patrick Smith and Matteo Fago--all of you will likely reach 100 singles wins. This is probably one of the best senior classes ever. What do you think your legacy will be when people look back?
A: I'm really not sure how to answer that question. I'm sure that they will think of us as three really good players and three really good leaders. I just hope the next generations will be as successful as we were.
Q: You and Matteo had a very strange way of meeting. Could you tell us about that?
A: It was really weird. We played two consecutive years in Egypt together. The first year we didn't even talk to each other. Both times we were there for a month. The second time, we talked for the first time after like twenty days, and it was really a random conversation. Both of us couldn't really speak any English, so I don't even know how we understood each other.
At that point, I already knew I was going to go to college, and he was really surprised when I told him I was coming to America. Both of us had played really well in those tournaments, but he didn't even know what college was. He was like, `what is college?'
After that we had a small chat there and a couple of months later--like six or seven months--he emailed me saying he wanted to come as well, so I helped him with the process. After that, I forwarded the email to Sam (Winterbotham), and everything just worked out.
Q: We're outdoors practicing today. We've been indoors for the past couple of months. What's the transition like from indoors to outdoors?
A: It's a little different. Obviously, indoors is a little faster, so a couple of points are shorter. Outside it's a little more physical I'd say, a little more running. The past few years we changed the surface and changed from indoors to outdoors a lot and a lot more often. It's not a big deal, really. It takes a couple of days to get used to it, but I think after a few days and a few matches, we'll be fine.
Q: I noticed you wear pink shoes--no one else wears pink shoes. What's the reasoning behind that?
A: Well they're just a different model that fit my feet better. I didn't want to purchase the pink shoes. Those were the only ones they had. I ordered black ones with a green stripe, but they just didn't have them. I was forced to buy those. I kind of like them though. They are unique.
Q: Do any of the other guys give you a hard time about them?
A: Well, in the beginning. But then they started realizing that they are actually cool (laughs).
Q: You and JP Smith are a doubles team. You guys are ranked eighth right now. You won a ITA All-American Championship with almost no practice. How have you guys gotten better as your chemistry develops over time?
A: Well, it's just the small things like who will get a ball in the middle. We kind of know each other better on the court, we know who is going to cover a certain part of the court. Both of us know the principles of doubles, so those small adjustments we work on in practice, we try to use those in matches. Those little things are going to make us better, but we need to work on a few more things to be a really good team in May.
Q: This fall you chose not to play college but instead chose to play some professional tournaments. Did that give you a glimpse of what the professional life would be like?
A: Yeah, I played in professional tournaments as an amateur before college, so I kind of knew what to expect. It was a little awkward because I was still in college, and I knew I was going to come back after a few months of play to the team aspect of tennis. It definitely helped me to feel it again, to feel that atmosphere on the tour. It will help me when I graduate, definitely.
Q: Do you still plan on playing professionally when you graduate? I know your parents played.
A: My parents didn't actually play professionally. When they turned 21 they quit because their parents forced them to go to school. That wasn't the case with me--I decided to go to school. It was just a different time. They only had a couple of tournaments a year, but now I probably have 5,000 future tournaments. It's just easier to travel now. I definitely think I'll play professionally for a few years after I gradutate.
Q: Serbia--your home country--won the Davis Cup this year. Did that give you a sense of national pride?
A: Yeah, definitely. I would say Serbs are a very proud people in everything, not only sport. I would say that's why we're successful in every sport not just tennis. A few years ago, we had three No 1 players in the world. For a country with 7 million people, that is a great accomplishment.
Q: What are some of your off the court hobbies?
A: I like to hang out--we hang out all the time as a team. We play pool a lot. Video games our are current hobby. Every month we have a new thing that is going on. On the trips, we play a lot of cards. Basically whenever I'm around my teammates I have a lot of fun.
Q: I hear you like techno music. Is that a Serbian thing or more of a Boris thing?
A: That's more of a European thing. They don't play a lot of rap or country back home. It's pretty much like country or rap in the South. Everyone in Europe listens to electronic music; it's not just Serbia.
Q: Has any of that country or rap rubbed off on you?
A: I listen to some of it, but I'm still sticking with house music. I think the European guys on the team brought the electronic music to the team, and I would say most of the team is listening to it--not just the European players.
Q: So you've rubbed off on them?
A: Yeah, pretty much (laughs).
Q: I know you're playing No. 5, but you're a former top-20 player. You're probably one of the top No. 5's in the nation. Is there any added pressure playing number five?
A: Honestly, I felt pressure in the beginning. I had just come back, and it was new for me to play No. 5. I had been highly ranked and had played in the top of the lineup since I got here. Playing five was a little change for me--it was just different. Now, I don't feel any pressure. It's just about playing my best tennis. I don't care where I'm playing. If I can be the best number five guy in the country, then I'm fine with that.
Q: This spring you started out strong. You're 15-1 at singles and 14-1 at doubles, so you're playing pretty well. Do you still feel like there's room for improvement?
A: I just have to keep at it. I have to work hard every day in practice. There are definitely a few aspects of my game that I'm still trying to get better. There are just small things I always have to work on, not only in college but once I graduate. I just have to focus on good tennis for now.
Q: Last year, UT was SEC champs and national finalists. Do you think that experience is going to help you this year to reach your goal?
A: Oh, it definitely will. Last year, we were also No. 2 at National Indoors. It was the same thing this year. Some of the other guys and I felt that this year we got there easier. It was just easier to get to the finals, even if the scores were closer than last year. That experience from last year really helped us, so I'm hoping that experience will help us with SECs and NCAAs.