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Coming to America

March 26, 2009 10:43 AM

When a team says that they overcame obstacles to reach the USTA League National Championships presented by Chrysler, it’s fairly certain that Vlatko Najdek’s story tops all others. The Yugoslavian-born tennis instructor’s journey started long before this year’s tennis season began.

In 1991, Najdek, a former top junior player, watched as his native country succumbed to war. With an expired student card and having not been enrolled in the army, Najdek learned to deal with the daily conflict that ultimately devastated his country. In 1994, after narrowly escaping daily bombings and raids, he finally escaped his war-torn home for South Africa.

Seven years later, Najdek’s tennis game brought him to suburban Philadelphia where he was offered a position as a tennis instructor. And in typical fashion, his journey from South Africa was far from smooth.

“My flight from South Africa to the United States was the first flight after September 11th,” Najdek recalls with a half grin as if to show how aware he is of his good fortune. “I was just meant to fly on September 12th I suppose.”

Now an instructor at Waynesborough Country Club in Paoli, Penn., Najdek can share stories with a nonchalant demeanor that never cease to amaze his teammates.

“Last night he told us how he climbed out of a pub’s bathroom window to escape a raid,” team captain and Director of Kinetix Sports Club, Sean McElroy exclaimed. “He actually did that twice!”

Najdek isn’t the only player from the Middle States squad from abroad. The team also consists of Swedish-born Johan Hoegstedt and Gareth Gibson of South Africa. And to prove their team’s success even further, Najdek, McElroy, Hoegstedt, and Gibson have combined for a total of nine National Championship berths.

“I’ve played Leagues for years and never reached Nationals,” McElroy said. “This year I made it to three.”

It must be his teammate’s luck rubbing off on him.

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