Love for tennis leads player from Croatia to Oxford


Photo by Miami Athletics

Sara Zalukar returns a volley during practice.

By Jack Tincher and Marisa Kelley

Sara Zalukar started playing tennis for one reason: to beat her brother. Years later, they now both compete at the college level. Sara is in her second year as a Miami RedHawk while brother Marko started his senior season in spring at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas.

Beginning at the age 8, Sara played tennis with her family in Croatia. She fell in love with the sport and began practicing regularly with Marco. 

“From 10 years old, I think I was practicing every day for two hours a day,” Zalukar said.

By age 12 she was competing internationally in Europe, Northern Africa and Western Asia. Her globetrotting eventually brought her to Oxford to join a diverse RedHawk roster that features student-athletes from eight different countries.

As a biochemistry major, Zalukar said she works just as hard off the court as she does on. She begins her school day with 8:30 a.m. classes, then spends an hour practicing by herself. After that, she spends an hour with the team and at least an hour of strength training followed by recovery. Then she eats dinner and ends her day as she started it, focusing on her academics.

The sophomore said her busy schedule of academics and athletics doesn’t usually leave time to be homesick. When the Zagreb native does miss home, she leans on her teammates.

 “We’re family for each other here. Off the court if you need someone to talk to and if you want to talk about what happened, you can. But if you don’t want to talk that’s fine, they are just going to be there giving support,” she said. “Nobody will judge you, as long as you give one hundred percent, everything will be fine.”

“I feel pretty good with this group,” said Head Coach Ricardo Rosas, “They’re very competitive and understand…what it takes to win a championship.”

Zalukar has moved up to second doubles this year. She and playing partner Emelia Valintinsson sport a 14-7 record to date this year. 

Off the court, the two are just as tight, Zalukar said. The pair live together and often find themselves leaning on each other when they miss their family or suffer a tough loss. She said they are even learning each other’s native Croatian and Swedish languages. 

“When we’re on the court, the people who are not playing are cheering really loud and supporting as much as they can,” Zalukar said.