From Serbia to Phoenix: Freshman Iva Sepa makes waves in tennis, culture at Grand Canyon University

Serbian athlete Iva Sepa shines as a freshman tennis player at Grand Canyon University while navigating the challenges of living in a new country. (Photo courtesy of GCU Athletics)

PHOENIX – Serbia is known for producing elite athletes Nikola Jokic in basketball, Novak Djokovic in men’s tennis and Sergej Milinković-Savić in soccer, but tennis is one of the least popular sports because its price tag.

However, Iva Sepa is using tennis as a vehicle as she adjusts to moving from Serbia to Phoenix, where she is a freshman studying business information and is on the Grand Canyon University women’s tennis team.

“I started playing tennis when I was eight. Actually, my grandma brought me to the tennis courts because she was a big fan of tennis,” Sepa said.

Over time her love for the game blossomed and she continued to play. Before moving to America, Sepa’s main goal was to play tennis professionally in Serbia until GCU coach Katarina Adamovic, who is also from Serbia, traveled to recruit Sepa.

“When I was recruiting her, I heard lots of good things from other coaches in Serbia and connections we had, but when I sat down with her and I had to talk with her and her dad, I knew this is kind of the person and the player I want to be part of my program,” Adamovic said.

Since moving to Arizona and living away from home, her family has been her main supporter during the entire process. During Sepa’s time in Arizona, she has already experienced plenty of adjustments.

“The biggest change is living in another country and then our lack of language and being surrounded by another culture,” Sepa said. “It’s completely different.”

Another massive change is nutrition in the states. Sepa has tried different American foods like pasta, pizza, and burgers, and she recently tried sushi. The move for Sepa was not nerve-racking; and now somewhat settled, she is enjoying her time here.

“I was actually so excited I was so happy that I’m coming here. I still am because this is unreal. For me, this is a dream,” Sepa said.

Sepa is playing well in her freshman season, posting a 4-1 record in singles. Her doubles record with Lailaa Bashir and Elizaveta Morozova is 6-2. It is a learning curve for both of them.

“Now it’s kind of one person is at the net, the other one is in back, and I’m usually the only one at the net,” Bashir said. “So it’s just been a little bit of an adjustment to get used to. I think we’re finding some progress and we’re figuring it out.”

Sepa has been playing tennis for a long time in Serbia, and in her first few months in Arizona, she noticed differences in how tennis is played compared to Serbia.

“The differences are unreal here (Arizona),” Sepa said. “We have so much other opportunity to play with good players. With good coaches, even fitness and dentists. We have treatments that we don’t have in Serbia that often.”

Since joining the team, she has positively impacted Adamovic, Bashir and everyone else on the team who adores her.

“When she (Iva) got here, she’s just been an amazing teammate, as a freshman stepping to roll, playing at a high level, and embracing being on a team instead of playing by yourself,” Adamovic said.

“She’s very light-hearted and funny and my other teammates will probably agree with that,” Bashir said. “She’s kind of the comedic relief lightheartedness and she’s a really good presence to be around.”

Serbia is a country that not many people talk about, but there is something very interesting about the country.

“We had an excellent food that probably a lot of people don’t. We have amazing athletes. The country is really pretty and nice,” said Sepa, whose favorite Serbian dish is Ćevapi, which is a grilled dish of minced meat.

The Lopes’ travel on the road Friday to play North Texas. Every match is pivotal moving forward as the WAC tournament, which starts April 18, rapidly approaches.

Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Jaden Batiest expects to graduate in August 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism.