The opportunity to see world-class tennis in a smaller, more intimate setting is one of the main pillars of tennis on the ATP Challenger Tour. That is, witness a player’s journey as he fights to build a career away from the big cities and the bright lights.
That is exactly what makes the Challenger track so special to these communities and regions in every corner of the world. And when that tournament is the only professional tennis event in the entire country, it adds an extra unique layer to its charm that is second to none. This is where the town of Banja Luka, Bosnia & Herzegovina, has carved its own identity on the ATP Challenger Tour for the past two decades.
This week the Srpska Open celebrated 20 years on the ATP Challenger Tour. It is not only the longest-running professional tennis tournament for men in all of Bosnia & Herzegovina, but also in the entire Balkan region of Southeastern Europe. With a population center of just 138,000, Banja Luka is also one of the smallest towns to host a Challenger tournament for 20 years or more.
It was in 2002 that Milan Radakovic had a vision for the future of tennis in his native Banja Luka. Never before has his city or country hosted a tournament of this caliber on the ATP Challenger Tour. But this was Milan’s dream. To bring elite tennis to Bosnia & Herzegovina. Not only did he achieve that same goal, but here we are more than two decades later, and his dream is still being realized.
Radakovic passed away in 2017 at the age of 61, and although he is no longer with us, the light behind his vision shines brighter than ever. He would be proud to witness this moment as the tournament he founded celebrates its 20th anniversary on the ATP Challenger Tour. The Srpska Open was honored on Thursday with a special ceremony in front of Bosnian worshipers on Center Court at the National Tennis Center.
Radakovic poses with Viktor Troicki and Albert Ramos-Vinolas at the 2014 awards ceremony.
Located along the banks of the Vrbas River, with tree-lined fields surrounding the town, Banja Luka is an important cultural and sporting hub in the Balkans. This week, fans flocked to the National Tennis Center to watch local legend Damir Dzumhur sprint to the semifinals. They blared horns and waved flags in support of Dzumhur, as well as compatriots Mirza Basic and Nerman Fatic. But wherever you come from, Banja Luka feels like home.
“I really enjoyed my time in Banja Luka,” said reigning champion Juan Manuel Cerundolo. “For me the tournament is very nice, the conditions are similar to Buenos Aires, so I really liked it. The people there are also very warm and welcoming and a lot of fans come to watch the tennis. To win it was very important because it brought me very close to the Top 100. But I also feel that this tournament has given me the momentum to reach the Top 100 a few weeks later. Congratulations to them for this 20th anniversary.”
Cerundolo celebrates his Banja Luka title in 2021.
Banja Luka has a rich sports culture, with the Srpska Open as its tennis identity. The local government in the Republic of Srpska plays a central role in providing funding for the tournament, recognizing its major impact on the sports landscape in the region. In 2017, the city was awarded the European City of Sport title, as one of only 23 European cities to receive this honor.
Times change and various factors cause tournaments to last longer and longer over the years. To withstand this precise test of time and remain a symbol of longevity deserves kudos. Currently run by Tournament Director Drasko Milinovic, along with a dedicated team of full-time club staff and part-time volunteers, the tournament has been a beacon on the Challenger Tour and a summer staple in Bosnia & Herzegovina for 20 years.
The old Srpska Open site at Tenis Klub Mladost.
In Banja Luka, this moment would not be possible without the hard work and commitment of all tournament staff, volunteers and sponsors. And the players who have been given opportunities to take the next step in their careers recognize the tournament’s dedication and commitment to the sport and the Tour.
The ATP Challenger Tour is the springboard to success for tomorrow’s stars and this tournament was just that in the award-winning careers of Felix Auger-Aliassime, Diego Schwartzman, Fabio Fognini and Janko Tipsarevic. All competed in Banja Luka, before rising to the Top 10 in the Pepperstone ATP rankings.
From the ATP to the Srpska Open, in 20 more years as part of the Challenger family.