Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Jovana Vasic led SPC women's tennis to prominence

ST. PETERSBURG — Jovana Vasic covered a tennis court with intensity and power, and conducted her life the same way. The former St. Petersburg College standout and All-American finished her sophomore year as captain of a team stocked with international players like herself — a team ranked third in the country.

Ms. Vasic was also an honor student with a 3.36 GPA who wanted to go into broadcasting. Blessed with intelligence and stunning looks, she struck coaches and teachers as the embodiment of a student athlete.

Her teammates knew her as a confident leader, someone who encouraged them during their matches while never losing focus on her own. In her spare time she volunteered to coach junior girls, some of whom began wearing tennis outfits that matched hers.

On Aug. 24, Ms. Vasic died in a car crash in Texas as she was on her way to start her junior year at Northern Arizona University, where she had a full tennis scholarship. She was 20.

According to news accounts, the wreck occurred after a semitrailer truck crossed a median and hit a BMW carrying Ms. Vasic and her father. Ms. Vasic died at the scene. Milan Vasic, who was driving, was injured but has since been released from a hospital. The crash is under investigation, but the semi's driver will at least be charged with a traffic infraction, the Texas Highway Patrol reports.

"It's a cliche, but the girl had it all," said Phil Girardi, her coach at SPC. "She was the total package — a great athlete, a beautiful girl and smart."

Jovana Vasic was born in 1990 in Belgrade, in the country that is now Serbia. Her family moved to the United States in 1993 in the midst of the Bosnian war. Her parents homeschooled her in Illinois and introduced her to tennis at age 5.

She grew in stature (5 feet 9) and skill, turning into a nationally ranked junior player who did modeling on the side.

"We literally envisioned her as being similar to Anna Kournikova, a supermodel tennis player," said Marko Zaric, a cousin.

Her power, speed and reflexes caught the attention of major universities, but she didn't get a scholarship. She was working out at IMG Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Bradenton when she met Madeline Johnson, then SPC's captain.

"We connected right away," Johnson said.

Ms. Vasic ended up with SPC's Lady Titans, starting as the team's No. 2 behind Johnson. Their apartment near the campus was the site of impromptu parties and sleepovers.

"We'd have a match that day and be so tired," said Johnson, 21. "I'd say, 'Jovana, I can't move, I'm so sore.' And she'd say, 'Me too, but let's go out!' "

Ms. Vasic succeeded Johnson as team captain for the 2010-2011 season, which culminated in a No. 3 national ranking by the National Junior College Athletic Association. Individually, Ms. Vasic ranked No. 4 in doubles and No. 25 in singles.

After getting word of Ms. Vasic's death Aug. 24, Girardi began calling his players.

"When I was telling them the news I made sure they were sitting down," Girardi said. "Then the hysteria would follow."

He kept calling until he reached the final player about 3 a.m.

Many of those teammates and former coaches have flown to Chicago for her funeral today, on what would have been her 21st birthday.

Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or


Jovana Vasic

Born: Aug. 31, 1990.

Died: Aug. 24, 2011.

Survivors: Parents Milan and Mila Vasic; grandmother Mica Zaric; sister Stefana; and brother Stefan.

Jovana Vasic led SPC women's tennis to prominence 08/30/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 30, 2011 9:37pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. DOT shows alternatives to former Tampa Bay Express toll lanes


    TAMPA — State transportation officials are evaluating at least a half-dozen alternatives to the controversial Tampa Bay interstate plan that they will workshop with the community for the next 18 months.

    Florida Department of Transportation consultant Brad Flom explains potential alternatives to adding toll lanes to Interstate 275 during a meeting Wednesday at DOT's Tampa office. Flom presented seven diagrams, all of which swapped toll lanes for transit, such as light rail or express bus, in the I-275 corridor from downtown Tampa to Bearss Ave. [CAITLIN JOHNSTON | Times]
  2. Florida Orchestra and Tampa Bay Master Chorale scrap search for a joint conductor


    TAMPA — After a yearlong effort, the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay and the Florida Orchestra have abandoned their search for a conductor capable of leading both groups.

    Doreen Rao conducts a concert with the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus and Orchestra in December 2010. Photo by Enid Bloch.
  3. New in theaters July 4 weekend: 'Despicable Me 3,' 'Baby Driver,' 'The House,' 'The Beguiled'


    OPENING Thursday:


    One of Hollywood's most successful animation franchises isn't about "me" anymore; it's about them.

    Gru (Steve Carell) squares off against Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker) in Despicable Me 3.
  4. Uhurus cancel Baker protest


    Jesse Nevel's campaign had planned to stage an anti-Rick Baker protest outside the St. Petersburg Yacht Club this evening while Baker held a fundraiser inside.

    Now, that's not happening.

    Jesse Nevel's Uhuru-affiliated campaign postpones protest
  5. Claim: State pressured CFO, used secret recordings to shut down Universal Health Care


    ST. PETERSBURG — The founder of St. Petersburg's Universal Health Care alleges that Florida regulators conspired with the company's chief financial officer to drive the once high-flying Medicare insurer out of business.

    Federal agents raided the headquarters of Universal Health Care in 2013, ordering employees to leave the building. The insolvent St. Petersburg Medicare insurer was then in the process of being liquidated by state regulators.
[DIRK SHADD   |   Times file photo]