Life on the tennis tour is not easy, especially for Australian players who spend most of the year away from home. Add a pandemic into the equation and the grind becomes even more difficult.
For Australia’s Aleksandar Vukic, the struggle was real. So real, that the 25-year-old, who is one of Australia’s hottest talents, almost “burnt out.”
“Last year was so tough. Going into August, I was struggling mentally. I was almost burnt out,” Vukic told The First Serve.
"There was a period there where I was playing in the Czech Republic and I was honestly talking to my family just being like, ‘is it worth it?’
“Honestly I wasn’t enjoying being alone travelling especially in Covid times. You’re so isolated, you can’t do anything.”
To make matters worse - just a few weeks later while preparing for the US Open, Vukic contracted Covid-19, forcing him to withdraw from the fourth and final slam of the 2021 season.
“I got Covid and wasn’t able to play the US Open which was a bummer,” Vukic said.
After coming out of isolation, in need of a refresh, the University of Illinois alumni took a trip back to his old stomping ground - where he tallied a 108-19 singles record in his four years at the college.
“I went back to my college which was and still is my second home and I was able to refresh there,” Vukic explained.
“I was able to go see my coaches who are still over there and I saw a few mates over there. That was a refreshment.
“I think internally over that time when I was there for those two to three weeks, I wanted to prove to myself that I can do better than what I had in that year.
“I feel like I had a disappointing year for my standards and I just wanted to prove to myself more than anyone that I can do something better,” Vukic stated.
After more than seven weeks away from competing on the tour, a refreshed and determined Vukic hit the road, ready to go again. The first stop was a Challenger tournament in Cary, where an incredible run of form began.
“It started in that first tournament where I was pretty exhausted coming from Covid and I made the semifinals there. For me, I had known that to have a good year and a career, you need to be consistent. That was my main thing - always trying to back it up and always to never be satisfied with one result,” Vukic explained.
Following his semifinal appearance in Cary, Vukic reached a semifinal in Colombus the following week and then went on to qualify for the main draw of the BNP Paribas Open Masters 1000 tournament in Indian Wells, where he then won his maiden ATP Masters main draw match.
The Sydneysider went on to reach two ATP Challenger finals after Indian Wells, ending his season in stellar form at a career-high No. 156 in the ATP Rankings.
“It’s just a constant thing, day-in-day-out trying to stay focused. I was never focusing on specific rankings or anything like that, it was more just if I’m playing a match, I give 100% that day, try to win that day and don’t think about anything else and go from there. It builds confidence winning matches. It's been awesome, I’m still taking it day by day.”
The 2022 season has seen the 25-year-old reach even greater heights. Vukic achieved his first top 50 win against Alexander Bublik en route to reaching his maiden ATP Tour quarterfinal in Adelaide.
He was awarded with a wildcard into the main draw of the Australian Open, where he claimed his maiden grand slam main draw win and another top 50 scalp, taking down No. 30 seed Lloyd Harris.
“I think It’s confidence, belief and I think it’s you experiencing it and seeing it. Especially now in the men’s game, I do think it's quite wide open where there are a few guys that are still unbelievable that you don’t wanna see in your draw, but I’m not really surprised by any results anymore. I think it’s kind of just everyone's good, I know that,” Vukic exclaimed.
A man on a mission, the breakthroughs didn't stop there. After an outstanding summer on home soil, Vukic carried his marvellous form to India, where he claimed his maiden ATP Challenger title in Bangalore last month.
The title saw Vukic rise even further up the ATP Rankings to a career-high No. 118.
“It feels good. Obviously, I’m very happy to win it. It doesn’t happen often in your tennis career or in your years that you play that you go the week without losing. It's such a negative sport in that way. There was no negative feeling that week which is so rare, so I think I’m happier about that than anything. It was great to win one but I’m honestly just looking ahead trying to focus on the next tournament now,” Vukic said.
As he continues his quest to the top of the men’s game, Vukic’s next stop is the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, where he will be hoping to replicate the form that saw him qualify for the main draw and win a round last year.
“Indian Wells, they’re conditions that I do like. I'll play Indian Wells and Miami and then I’m still deciding on where I’ll go to start my clay season. I think I’ll go somewhere with a little bit more altitude, or somewhere where it's a bit livelier. I think that’ll suit my game quite well - somewhere where it's quicker clay. My schedule is going to be quite important for that stint. Indian Wells and Miami are two tournaments that Aussies do like because the conditions are quite similar to back home,” Vukic explained.
When looking at all of his achievements in the last six months, it’s easy to get carried away when considering just how far Vukic could take his game, but the Sydneysider is staying level-headed and remains focused on bringing a high level of consistency to see where it can take his game, rather than setting outlandish goals.
“There’s no real massive goal. Obviously, the top 100 is in the back of your head, but I also want to go further. Top 75, top 50, that’s always floating in the back of your head and I think it’s always good to have there. But at the end of the day, once you step on the court, whether it’s practising or a match, you’re not thinking about that, or you shouldn’t be thinking about that I don’t think. You’ve gotta be thinking about that current moment. It's one of those where I think if you focus day-in-day-out and do the right things and try to improve, the ranking - it’s going to even out eventually,” Vukic said.
“Over the course of the year, if you can perform more consistently than a lot of the other guys especially around that 200 to 50 ranking, I think there’s a good chance of having a very successful year, just by being there consistently. That's probably the hardest part about it, is trying to be there for the whole year. You see so many guys have results, but to have consistency is the hardest part about tennis, just because of all the variables and things happening in your life. I think that's the main thing that I’m trying to focus on this year and then at the end of the year, we’ll see where my ranking is at and go from there.”
Aleksandar Vukic's season will continue this week, with the Australian in qualifying action in Indian Wells.