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Former Gamecock enjoying a long career as a professional coach
Women's Tennis  . 

Former Gamecock enjoying a long career as a professional coach

by Brad Muller, Director of Content

Biljana (Mirkovic) Veselinovic isn’t scared of a challenge. Having grown up in what was then Yugoslavia, now Serbia, she came to the U.S. and the University of South Carolina to play tennis and get an education. She used her degree to work in business marketing, but later accepted a challenge to coach where women are in the minority, and she has flourished. Not bad for someone who former South Carolina coach Arlo Elkins called “Pippi” after the children’s book character, Pippi Longstocking.

“That’s my nickname, even nowadays,” Veselinovic said. “She enjoyed extraordinary strength. I had freckles when I was a kid, and my mom dressed me up as Pippi Longstocking during one opportunity.
Biljana (Mirkovic) Veselinovic
(Mirkovic) Veselinovic at South Carolina

“I enjoy the challenge because when you start working with someone, there is a certain goal that a player would like to achieve. Setting daily goals and how to achieve the rankings they would like to achieve is a challenge that is exciting. This is what is driving me.”

Veselinovic was among the first of a long line of Serbian (formerly Yugoslavian) tennis players to come to South Carolina. She played for the Gamecocks from 1986-1988 after transferring from a junior college in Texas. She teamed up with Paulette Roux to lead South Carolina in doubles wins both years, playing in the top spot. She was named the ITA Southeast Region Tournament Doubles Champion in 1987 while posting a 23-7 singles record and helped the Gamecocks reach the NCAA Tournament as a senior after going 29-14 in singles.

“I was ranked No. 2 in the nation in the junior college rankings, and I had offers from more than 10 schools,” Veselinovic said. “I chose South Carolina because of the marketing program and because of the strong tennis program.

“My relationship with Arlo was excellent. I was listening to his advice. He was pushing me to be more aggressive and to do a serve and volley type of game. I liked the idea, and I liked being part of the team. My best memories were when we qualified in doubles for the national championship and all the trips that we took in the van that took more than three or four hours because we made it fun. All I remember is high spirits and a good mood!”

After graduating from South Carolina, Veselinovic played professionally, and then decided to put her degree to work. While she loved tennis, she initially opted to pursue a career outside of the game.

“After a year of that, I took a job in Serbia in sports marketing,” Veselinovic said. “I was working for the owner of a tennis club and sports association in Belgrade. After a year or so, I returned back to my hometown and started to work in the tennis club there. My hours were split with half in the office and half on the tennis courts, where I started to coach little girls, age 10 to 12.”

“I had quite a few successful runs with a majority of players where I improved the rankings of the players.”

Veselinovic found her calling as that same group of girls won the 12 and under national championship a short time later. She excelled at coaching without any formal training, so she chose to expand her knowledge by attending workshops and taking courses. 

“Once everything started to work so well, I enjoyed the work,” Veselinovic said. “I started to educate myself and took many courses organized by the European Tennis Association and the International Tennis Federation. I saw that I enjoyed being on the court with the girls. The girls that I coached ended up being in the top 8 in Europe as well, so the result was there.”
Biljana (Mirkovic) Veselinovic with Srebotnik
Veselinovic and Katerina Srebotnik

In 2004 she began coaching professionals. Veselinovic went on to coach high level professionals such as Daria Gavrilova (Australia), Petra Martic (Croatia), Aleksandra Krunic (Serbia), Alize Cornet (France), Lucie Safarova (Czech Republic) and Katerina Srebotnik (Slovenia). She helped Srebotnik reach a WTA singles ranking of No.20 and doubles ranking of No.4, while Safarova also reached a Top 20 singles and doubles ranking while working with Veselinovic. She worked with Cornet from 2015-16, where she rose as high as No.19 in the world. Surprisingly, Veselinovic was a minority in her field.

“Lately, we had more female coaches, but that meant maybe 10 in the top 100,” Veselinovic said. “That number might be less now. I think it’s because it requires a lot of traveling; a minimum of maybe 25 weeks on the road per year. A lot of women are not open to that because of family and kids.”

Veselinovic does have two grown children with a 26-year-old daughter and 21-year-old son.

When contract structures changed within the WTA, Veselinovic left to pursue an opportunity working with players in the Lawn Tennis Association of Great Britain.

“The general goal of LTA is to have five players ranked in the top 100 in the world,” Veselinovic said. “There are two at the moment, so they’re looking for three more. From 2003 until 2019, I was coaching different players in WTA. I had quite a few successful runs with a majority of players where I improved the rankings of the players I worked with. Usually after working for two or three years, the contract expires or we both feel it’s time to split for different reasons. Lately, I felt that the players were earning a lot and were holding the responsibility of the coach more, instead of splitting the responsibility between coach and player. I took the chance to work for the company as a consultant. I was not hoping to be a lead coach again, but I ended up being the lead coach for Harriet Dart.

“The best part is when you see the work is showing results and the ranking is improving. It’s always the best when they get to the point that they can compete against top 10 players.”

For Veselinovic, another challenge accepted.