It’s a common idea that the path of a prodigy is an easy one. But behind the scenes, it’s a completely different story, requiring a huge level of commitment.
Petra Granic knows this too well after embarking on a journey that has required her to sacrifice the comfort of her homeland in order to reach the forefront of women’s tennis.
The junior grew up in Split, Croatia, as the daughter of a former tennis coach and the youngest of four sisters. In this environment, Granic discovered her passion for tennis and found her competitive drive.
“I started playing tennis when I was 5 or 6,” Granic said. “I started to play with my dad in a big parking lot and I really liked it, so I started to practice. My dad is very competitive, so I definitely got that from him. I loved the feeling of winning a match and trying to be the best.”
By the age of 10, it was apparent Granic’s inner fire unveiled major talent. That year, Granic won her first national championship. Four more would follow before she turned 15. Granic also joined the Croatian national team and was added to the Top-20 European ranking of girls 14 and under.
“When I got involved with the national team, it became much more serious” Granic said. “You’re playing for your country, especially in Croatia, where there are so many talented players even though it’s a very small country. Tennis is a very popular sport. This was when people started noticing my name.”
Granic also started to attract attention overseas, catching the eye of Texas head coach Howard Joffe.
“When I first saw Petra, I noted that she played with impeccable timing and precision,” Joffe said. “It was apparent that she would be the top player at many schools.”
Joffe described the recruiting process as a smooth one since Texas had previously fielded two other athletes from her hometown, Neda Koprcina and Petra Dizdar.
The connection to home proved to be the deciding factor for Granic after her fellow Croatians praised the prestige of the program. Yet, Granic would face some of her greatest challenges when she set foot on the Forty Acres.
“The schooling system is much different from back home,” Granic said. “Even though I spoke English fairly well, having to read, study and say ‘Good morning’ in English felt very different to me.”
Along with adjusting to the new culture, Granic had to battle homesickness.
“When you come here, everything that comes with being a student athlete is tough,” Granic said. “Life gets hard when you’re so far away from home. When the tough times came, it was a hard realization I didn’t have my friends, my mom, my dad or my siblings by my side.”
Nonetheless, Granic didn’t wilt under her circumstances, using it as an opportunity to forge independence.
“Not having these people there to hug me helped me grow so much,” Granic said. “It helped me realize who I am, which grows strength and toughness, so it was a struggle, but it was a good struggle.”
Her sharp mental toughness proved to be pivotal as Granic blossomed into one of the best players in the Big 12 this season. As the Longhorns move toward the first round of the NCAA Tournament this weekend, she has posted a 15–1 record, 13 of which have been in straight sets.
“I love that sense of calm when I get into the zone,” Granic said. “I feel like I’m in my own world on the court.”