When did you first start playing tennis, and how did you develop a love for the game?
I guess I was around seven years old. I started hanging out with my older brother and his friends. I was the youngster in the group, the kid who was always carrying his racquet around and hitting the ball against the wall. I used to train with my dad a lot, at the local sports court. Basically, tennis culture in Serbia is amazing, and I think that all the great names in this sport were initially created this way: outside of any sort of system or organisation – within families or by playing with the ones who are better at it.
When did you start doing freestyle tennis tricks?
I was doing tricks as early as I can remember. I have to say: the widely accepted term of freestyle has this concept of freedom in it, and that might be misinterpreted. Freestyle actually requires a lot of practice and discipline. In the past two years, I have been really focused on training. I train every day for a couple of hours. I’m improving my skills and constantly working on developing new tricks.
When did the media begin to take an interest in what you do? Do you think the internet and YouTube helped to promote you?
I started making videos as soon as I felt sure that I was satisfied with my skills. It was all out of pure fun. Of course, I also felt that there would be people who would be willing to watch what I could do. Basically, the first boom happened at the begining of this year, when a video I made in Novi Sad became very popular. People started sharing it on Facebook, and the newspapers were searching for me. I remember I was on a trip when my friends called me and told me about all of this. I became a mystery man who can do awesome tricks with a tennis ball and a racquet. So, when I came back home, the mystery was resolved. The story gradually spread around the world.
You have signed a contract with a big company and have taken a leading part in their campaign. How did you manage to do that?
Well, I believed in my idea. I thought that, if there was one moment in my performance that people would find captivating and cool, it could be successful. As for the contract with them: I had an idea about a project. I decided to take some initiative, and I proposed my idea to potential sponsors. I knew that nobody was doing what I was doing, so it gave me confidence, and it paid off. The best part of working with that company is the chance to travel and visit tournaments. I must say that the fact that I’m alone in this kind of tennis art is both an advantage and disadvantage. I have to convince my sponsors and the rest of the world in the potential and quality of what I do, make them believe me.
Due to your popularity and participation in tournaments you have had the opportunity to meet some of the famous names of tennis, such as Novak Đoković, Maria Sharapova, Andy Murray, etc. You have challenged them to try the tricks you’ve mastered. How did that feel? Do you consider some of them as your role models?
It was a great and fun experience. These people have my highest respect. Maybe role model is a too strong word, but Novak Đoković is someone who holds a special, deserved status in my country and beyond. I know what he’s been through, his devotion and the sacrifices he made to be the best. And I admire that. Meeting them was amazing, there was a great, positive energy and I recieved compliments and recognition for my efforts. To them, I wasn’t just some kid who plays around with a tennis racquet, and that felt incredible.
You got a scholarship at St. John’s University in New York, where you chose film production as your major. How did you get the scholarship?
Basically, it wasn’t that unusual. If you were young and good at some kind of sport, and also had some relevant success in that field, you could contact universities and negotiate. Initially, I went to Virginia, but I didn’t like it there. I’ve come to realize that New York or Los Angeles make the best choices. After Virginia, I went back to Serbia and later got accepted at St. John’s University. Athletic scholarships are a great opportunity, but the system has its faults. However, to most of the young people who participate, these scholarships are a means, not a goal. They do not plan on pursuing a professional career in sports, but it gives them an amazing opportunity to get a high quality education and study what they love.
How did you cope with leaving Novi Sad, your home, family and friends? Was it hard to adapt to the new surroundings?
It was hard, but I left Serbia on purpose. I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone and to grow out of it. It was an opportunity for my personal development.
Why did you choose film production over a professional sports career in tennis? Do you have any regrets?
I haven’t started any serious projects regarding film directing yet, but I don’t have any regrets. I’m having some problems defining what it really means to be successful in the world of tennis, since I’ve noticed a lot of exploitation there. Professional players go through hard psychological stages. It is hard and worthy of admiration. Maybe they are just stronger than I am; maybe they didn’t know better or felt that their true calling was too strong to be cast off. I have decided I want to deal with tennis in an alternative way. I’m more of a jester than a knight, in that sense. Jesters live longer, so it’s great.
Do you think that the image you’ve created and your current success are going to help your career in the film industry?
I think it can help, but also it can do quite the opposite. I’ve noticed that people tend to banalize others, put them in certain boxes, because that makes it easier to manage them. So, it could benefit me in the sense that others may acknowledge my creativity and the fact that I’m doing something unique. But also, it could do the opposite and stigmatize me like – Stefan, the guy with the tennis tricks. And I am much more than that.
What advice do you have for young people?
I would say – don’t take other people’s advice. I mean – you should always hear them out, but you shouldn’t always listen.
Anything you want to add?
There are a lot of interesting people all around the world; true pioneers that I like to call artists of the postmodern. I am talking about skaters, people who do parkour, people who create graffiti art, etc. There are a lot of artists who use their bodies as their artistic medium and sometimes – they do get the recognition of the media and the world, but not in the right way. We live in a time of fast media, where people are focused on the product, without taking much time to think about the process of creating that product. In the subcultures I’ve mentioned, there is a whole ideology, which isn’t of interest to the media. For example, they see a skate trick and they don’t think about how that skateboarder must have fallen many times until he got it right. There is an idea that is strong enough to make him stand up after every fall. My training consists of constant failing, too. I started doing tricks under the name Elementary Techniques. At the beginning, I had the idea of creating a brand out of it and attracting other people who have their own innovative ways of artistic expression. The name – Elementary Techniques, is an ironic allusion to the way the world functions: it’s progressively oriented towards prosperity; but it is too linear and consists of people thinking too much inside of the box.