Banja Luka celebrates the 20th anniversary of its Challenger tour | ATP tour

The ability to watch world-class tennis in a smaller, more intimate setting is one of the fundamental pillars of tennis on the ATP Challenger Tour. Simply put, witnessing a player’s journey as they struggle to establish a career away from big cities and bright lights.

This is precisely what makes the Challenger circuit so special for these communities and regions around the world. And when this tournament is the only professional tennis event in the entire country, it adds an extra unique layer to its unrivaled charm. It’s where the city of Banja Luka, Bosnia and Herzegovina, has forged its own identity on the ATP Challenger Tour over the past two decades.

This week, the Srpska Open has been in the spotlight for 20 years on the ATP Challenger Tour. It is not only the oldest men’s professional tennis tournament in all of Bosnia and Herzegovina, but also in the entire Balkan region in 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 hometown of Banja Luka. Never before had his city or country hosted a tournament of this caliber on the ATP Challenger Tour. But that was Milan’s dream. Bringing elite tennis to Bosnia and Herzegovina. Not only did he achieve that goal, but here we are more than two decades later, and his dream is still coming true.

In 2017 Radakovic passed away 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 very tournament he founded celebrates its 20th anniversary on the ATP Challenger Tour. The Srpska Open was put in the spotlight on Thursday, with a special ceremony in front of the Bosnian faithful on the center court of the National Tennis Centre.

Radakovic
Radakovic poses with Viktor Troicki and Albert Ramos-Vinolas at the 2014 trophy ceremony.

Situated along the banks of the Vrbas River, with tree-lined fields surrounding the town, Banja Luka is an important cultural and sporting center in the Balkans. This week, fans flocked to the National Tennis Center to see local legend Damir Dzumhur sprint in the semi-finals. They honked and waved flags in support of Dzumhur, as well as their compatriots Mirza Basic and Nerman Fatic. But no matter where you are from, Banja Luka feels like home.

“I really enjoyed my time in Banja Luka,” said defending champion Juan Manuel Cerundolo. “For me, the tournament is very nice, the conditions are similar to Buenos Aires, so I liked it a lot. The people there are also very warm and welcoming and a lot of fans come to watch the tennis. Winning there was very important because it put me very close to the Top 100. But I also think that this tournament gave me the momentum to reach the Top 100 a few weeks later. Congratulations to them on this 20th anniversary.

Cerundolo
Cerundolo celebrates his Banja Luka 2021 title.

Banja Luka has a rich sporting culture, with the Srpska Open constituting its tennis identity. The local government of Republika Srpska plays a pivotal role in funding the tournament, recognizing its significant impact on the region’s sporting landscape. In 2017, the city was awarded the title of European City of Sport, as one of 23 European cities to receive this honor.

Times are changing and several factors cause the longevity of tournaments to ebb and flow over the years. To stand this precise test of time and remain a beacon of durability deserves applause. Currently led by Tournament Director Drasko Milinovic, with a dedicated team of full-time workers and part-time volunteers, the tournament has become a beacon of the Challenger Tour and a staple of summer in Bosnia and Herzegovina for these 20 years. .

Banja Luka
The former Srpska Open venue at Tenis Klub Mladost.

In Banja Luka, this moment would not have been possible without the hard work and commitment of all tournament staff, volunteers and sponsors. And the players who have had the opportunity to take the next step in their career recognize the tournament’s dedication and commitment to the sport and the Tour.

The ATP Challenger Tour is the springboard to success for the stars of tomorrow and this tournament was precisely that of the decorated careers of Felix Auger-Aliassime, Diego Schwartzman, Fabio Fognini and Janko Tipsarevic. All competed in Banja Luka, before climbing into the Top 10 of the Pepperstone ATP rankings.

From the ATP to the Srpska Open, another 20 years within the Challenger family.

ATP Challenger Tour


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