In the news: Serbian exchange student sparks Hawks boys 12 May 10:26
Andrija Martinovic looked skyward and screamed.
The Bozeman senior’s bellow echoed across Montana State’s Bobcat-Anderson Tennis Complex on Thursday afternoon after his overhead smash slammed into the net. Martinovic, who was competing in the Southern AA Divisional semifinal with partner Jackson Pedersen, knew he had squandered an opportunity to break Helena’s serve to begin the second set.
Moments later, however, the Serbian smirked after delivering one of his many impressive hits during the straight-sets victory. He was playing forward when a return bounded off the top of the net and over his left shoulder. Martinovic twisted, lunged backward and swatted a cross-court, backhand winner.
He collected himself after the point and he and Pedersen cruised to a 6-0 victory after dropping three games in the first set. They will play in the final this morning.
A pair that’s only been playing together for three weeks quickly has ascended by virtue of their individual skills. Their on-court chemistry, though, may lift them to a state title.
“We have fun on the court,” said Pedersen, who was often animated after Martinovic delivered booming forehand winners or aces. “Both of us have (anger) issues, but once we get past that, then we’re good.”
Martinovic preferred a bigger declaration.
“I don’t want to be cocky, but I think we’re the best team in the whole state,” the exchange student said. “We can win the state, easily.”
It’s hard to dispute his claim when he and Pedersen both possess dominant serves, powerful ground strokes and are exceptional athletes. Martinovic, who lived in Indiana last semester, said he’s been playing tennis since he was 4 in addition to playing soccer. He’s also a mixed martial artist and surfer.
Pedersen won the state doubles titles last year with Logan Derby and qualified in singles two years ago as a sophomore.
“They have all the shots they need to do well and go forward,” Hawks assistant coach Bo Bullock said. “The biggest thing is just communication and finding that chemistry because they haven’t played much, and that’s the only thing holding them back a little bit.”
Martinovic’s confidence is something not normally seen among Bozeman’s better athletes, who typically remain humble and quiet. The bravado is a refreshing change, Pedersen said.
“It’s something new and I think we needed it,” he added. “It lightens up the team and he’s funny; we crack jokes all the time. When we do, that’s when we’re at our best, when we keep it loose.”
Added Bullock, “Confidence is a good thing. Once you get to this part of the season, everybody’s so tight and so much is riding on it, it’s hard for them to let go and play loose and be confident; the nerves get in the way. It’s nice to see people play with confidence and believe in themselves in that way.”
Martinovic and Pedersen have already qualified for state because of their finals appearance, and two other Hawks pairs hope to join them. Johnny Kamp and Hudson Hart won their opener, 6-0, 6-0, before falling in the quarterfinals. They logged a 6-3, 6-2 victory in the consolation bracket and need two more wins to advance to the third-place match and clinch a state berth.
Levi Collins and Tal Rogers cruised into the semifinals, where they played the longest match of the day. They won the first set, 6-3, but then dropped the second and third in tiebreakers, 7-6 (3) and 7-6 (2).
“They should not feel bad about that match at all,” said Bullock, whose pupils need just one win today to advance to next week. “It could’ve gone either way and they still have a lot of tennis to play tomorrow.”
Laurel Ward and Annika Linkenbach highlighted the girls effort with three straight-sets wins. They dominated their semifinal with a 6-4, 6-1 triumph.
“I think they executed really well setting each other up and playing as a team,” assistant Jamie Booth said. “They put a lot of expectations on themselves so some of it is battling themselves and their opponents, and they did a really good job keeping their composure.”
They will play defending state champions Bridget and Fiona Powers of Helena Capital in the final.
Sasha Hathaway and Victoria Peterson plus Bree Luther and Rosie Mokwa are still competing in consolation.
“Overall, the team played exceptional against some stiff competition,” Booth said. “Everybody came to play and left everything they could on the court.”