Zvonimir “Z” Babic, former Ole Miss men’s tennis team captain, is making strides in Croatia as a professional tennis player. Babic started playing tennis when he was seven years old and held the title of the No. 1 player in Croatia for five years.
He had a shoulder injury when he was 12 that almost ended his tennis career, but two years later, he returned to the game, which led him to be recruited by the University of Mississippi. Through all his struggles and trials, Babic’s passion for tennis followed him throughout his journey from Croatia to UM and back.
Upon graduating from the University of Mississippi in 2018 and obtaining a Master’s degree in accounting, he has returned to his home country to pursue a professional career in singles and doubles in hopes of eventually playing in the ATP Tournament, the largest tennis organization in the world.
Tell me about your tennis background before coming to the University of Mississippi.
“When I was 14, I started playing again, even still with a lot of pain. This was rough. All the kids were far ahead of me, but I knew I had to practice. I did not fully recover until the age of 17, and I finally started placing first in my league again. Along the way, I won the National Under-18 Championship in Croatia for singles and doubles. At that moment, I knew I had to make a decision to go straight to the pros or go to college.”
What made you decide to play tennis professionally after grad school instead of going into accounting?
“I always wanted to play tennis professionally, but as I said before, I didn’t want to be that guy that just plays tennis. I didn’t like working in Atlanta, though, and didn’t like the city. However, so many people want to come to America, work and secure a visa, and I didn’t want to give up that opportunity. When I did receive mine, the chances were so slim, but I was lucky enough to secure one for 2020. This job would last for years, though, and I wondered how I would stay in shape to potentially go home and play tennis later or work out all the time.”
“When I got back to Oxford during COVID, many people approached me about private lessons and coaching, and I began hustling, and my love for tennis came back in such a great way. I preferred spending three hours on the court teaching rather than working in excel on spreadsheets. The coronavirus and Oxford really helped me realize my path and purpose behind (playing tennis) which really helped me realize what I wanted to do for my life.”
What were the deciding factors to pursue going pro?
“After my internship, I was accomplished on the business and education side, so now (I thought) it was time to do what I love, you know? Because when I’m 30 or so, all the educational opportunities I have will still be there, but my best five years of my (tennis) life from 25-30 may be stuck rotting in an office unless I’m on the courts.”
What is your overall goal as a tennis pro?
“I want to become a professional tennis player right now in the next few years. It would be great within two years to play at the Challenger Tour. I’m at the age where I can represent my country in the Davis Cup, which is my personal dream come true to play doubles at. I think there’s no better and greater achievement for me. I don’t think there is any job better for me than tennis. It’s not only a job, but a skill.”
What advice would you give to other tennis players who perhaps want to go pro?
“I would say be grateful that you’re able to play the game. I think that by far the biggest thing in tennis is that you really cherish every single shot that you can make. There are many people who have no means to play tennis or to be able to do sports, so if you’re in the situation financially, health-wise and mentally, then you should actually be very grateful for it. Regardless of whether you’re losing or winning, you should be grateful just to be there.”