Popovic gets ready to wrap up her fifth season with the Golden Eagles

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(Photo courtesy of Marquette Athletics.)

From starting at a young age with ballet lessons to eventually picking up tennis at the age of seven, redshirt senior Natalija Popovic found her path to the tennis court.

“There were tennis courts right next to my apartment building as a kid, and they organized a summer camp for little kids and my parents asked me if it was something I would like to try. I tried it out to see how it was and then pretty fast it became very serious and I started competing,” Popovic said.

Now in her fifth and final season with the team, Popovic is nearing the end of her time with the Golden Eagles.

At first she said she was hesitant with coming to the United States for school because she wasn’t ready to leave everything behind in her hometown in Serbia.

“But when Marquette showed interest, I talked to coach Dusan and it seemed like the right fit academically and tennis-wise. I found my second home here and I felt very welcomed,” Popovic said.

Starting off strong following her first-year season, Popovic was selected BIG EAST Singles Player of the Week twice this season.

Associate head coach Dusan Medan said Popovic is a great leader on and off the court who has gotten better every year.

“She’s one of the best college athletes in Division I college tennis from the women’s side and I feel like with her maturing, growing emotionally and mentally she was really able to take advantage of that physicality,” Medan said. “She’s been nothing but great for us on and off the court, what she brings is special.” 

Being the lone senior on the team among a rather young lineup, Popovic serves as one of the captains on the team alongside junior Elisabeth Desmarais.

Popovic said they compliment each other being leaders on the team.

“We are very different from the leadership standpoint but different in a way that we compliment each other in a perfect way by bringing the team together,” Popovic said.

Junior Giulia Turconi said she admires Popovic’s confidence level and her kindness to always help others on the team as a leader does.

“She is playing really well and she is very confident playing number one for us,” Turconi said. “I admire her kindness as well because she is always willing to help all of us and she is always helping others when they are having a hard time.” 

Medan said it will be hard to a replacement for Popovic next season because of the bond they built over the years.

“We have girls that can fill her shoes but it’s not going to be instant, it’s going to take a while,” Dusan said. “It’s hard to find recruits to come in and do what ‘Nato’ did. I built a special bond with her and her family and I know what’s going on in her life and on a daily basis and she got to know my family as well.”

As Popovic’s time on the team is coming to an end and is getting ready to graduate from the College of Communication, earning her master’s in public relations, she said she is grateful for the people she has met along the journey.

“I am just grateful for everyone that was there for me over these last five years. Both coaches, teammates, and the fans were just all a huge support,” Popovic said.

With six games left of the regular season, Medan said he has reminded Popovic to just continue to have fun.

“This is her fifth year, I just want her to enjoy herself on the tennis court, compete really hard and prove not only to us but to herself that she can finish this and help this team go far in the BIG EAST,” Medan said. “With her leadership this is our chance to really do something special in the conference.”

Looking back at her career, Popovic said she has accomplished a lot throughout her time.

“My biggest accomplishment was my first year when I was announced Rookie of the Year for the whole BIG EAST Conference and was also named MVP on our team,” Popovic said.

Popovic said she wants to be remembered for a few things but mainly for the kind of person that she is.

“I want to be remembered as a good person and my competitiveness on the court and just the hard work that I give during practice,” Popovic said.“I mainly want to be remembered as someone who helped build this program and its culture and led it to a right direction for future generations.” 

This article was written by Hannah Freireich. She can be reached at hannah.freireich@marquette.edu.