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updated: 9/2/2011 11:55 AM

Former Naperville tennis star killed in car crash

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  • Jovana Vasic

    Jovana Vasic


Budding tennis star Jovana Vasic, formerly of Naperville, was killed late last month in Texas after a semitrailer truck plowed into her father's BMW, in which she was a passenger.

The 20-year-old and her father, Milan Vasic of Des Plaines, were headed to Flagstaff, Ariz., where Jovana was about to start her junior year at Northern Arizona University on a full-ride tennis scholarship.

The Aug. 24 crash occurred on Interstate 40 in Wheeler County, Tex.

The semi was headed east on I-40 when it veered off the roadway, crossed the grassy median and came onto the westbound lane, striking the driver's-side of Vasic's car, said Milan Vasic, recovering at home from a broken right arm suffered in the crash.

"He cut off the front end of the car," he said. "It looked like it was cut off with a knife."

Jovana was pronounced dead at the scene.

Her wake was held Tuesday with burial on Wednesday, when she would have celebrated her 21st birthday, said Milan Vasic, 43.

Milan Vasic said he is still not sure what caused his daughter's sudden death. She was wearing her seat belt and was not pinned in any way, he said.

Milan Vasic's own memory of the crash is blurry. He doesn't recall if the air bags opened or knows who called police.

"Police was there within minutes," he said. "Then they tried to pull us out of the car. Emergency vehicles were working on us and that's when really we found out that there was nothing they could do. It's probably the hardest thing that a parent can go through."

The crash is still under investigation.

Jovana was born in Belgrade, Serbia, and moved with her family to the United States in 1993 during the Bosnian War. They eventually settled in Naperville.

She had been home-schooled all her life and started playing tennis at age 5, training locally at Hinsdale Racquet Club under coach Jack Sharpe.

"He is one of the best coaches in the country," Milan Vasic said.

Jovana was one of the most popular and beloved players at the club, said Sharpe, who has worked with her since age 7.

"Everyone calls her 'Yoyo'," he said. "Everybody knows her. Everybody likes her. She's just one of the nicest persons in the whole world. Unfortunately, for tennis that's not a good thing."

Jovana had an extremely outgoing and social personality, which sometimes got in the way of her training, Sharpe said.

"She kind of gets sidetracked a little too much on the social stuff," he said.

Yet Jovana had athleticism in her blood. Her parents played Olympic sports in Serbia. Her father was a soccer player and her mother played handball, Sharpe said.

"She was so physically gifted," he said. "She (was) an incredibly talented athlete. At one time, she was top 10 in the United States."

Jovana later trained at Roddick Lavalle Academy in Texas and IMG Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Bradenton, Fla., before joining St. Petersburg College's Lady Titans.

Jovana was an All-American player at the Florida junior college, finishing her sophomore year as captain of a team ranked third nationally. She transferred to Northern Arizona University, where she ranked first in doubles and second among singles players.

"She was going to change the face of NAU tennis," said Kim Bruno, Northern Arizona's director of tennis, in a statement released by the university. "She was a really special person who other people wanted to play next to and be next to all the time. She was the most competitive player I have ever seen."

Jovana was ranked fourth in the nation among doubles players and 25th among singles players by the National Junior College Athletic Association.

"She was a top junior player," Milan Vasic said.

When she wasn't going to class or playing tennis, Jovana also was pursuing a career as a model.

Jovana's two younger siblings, Stefana, 13, and Stefan, 10, are following in her footsteps on the tennis court, training at the Hinsdale Racquet Club.