It was love at first sight of a racket.
“He watched tennis instead of playing with toys,” Sasho Jankulovski said through a translator about his son’s early childhood.
Miami Hurricanes freshman Bojan Jankulovski was very different than the average kid growing up in Selo Gluvo, a modest village on the outskirts of Macedonia’s capital, Skopje.
Before he could envision himself serving a tennis ball on the clay at the Stade Roland-Garros courts, where he played in the Junior French Open, he could recite the capital city of every European country by the age of 3.
But it wasn’t his impressive memory that would take him on a lifetime of adventures in fewer than 18 years. It was his passion in between the white chalk lines and what he could do with a neon Babolat racket gripped in his dominant left hand.
Like many kids, Jankulovski, the oldest of two sons, grew up playing sports. His parents signed him up for soccer, and he was placed as the last line of defense in goal because of his tall and lanky stature. But the love for soccer wasn’t there.
That’s when his “majka” Biljana and “tatko” Sasho – meaning mother and father –took him to the local tennis club, called “Jug.” This ended up being a decision that changed Jankulovski’s life forever.
His talent was clear right away. At 9 years old, he consistently won matches against 12-year-olds. The club victories quickly turned into appearances across Europe and, eventually, around the globe.
At one point, he rose as high as No. 53 in the ITF Junior World Rankings and won 15 International Junior tournaments. He was also nominated to the Macedonian Davis Cup team twice, becoming the youngest player to participate.
But the continued success didn’t reduce his drive.
While other friends and peers were partying, Jankulovski was studying tennis. The southpaw religiously watched his idol and one of the best left-handed players of all time, Rafael Nadal.
“If you really love something and you want to be successful, you have to sacrifice a lot of things,” Jankulovski said.
His sacrifices continued throughout high school, devoting all his attention to his sport at the expense of his schooling.
“I had a hole in my education,” he said. “I sacrificed my education for tennis. Four years of high school, I was doing nothing. When I came to Miami, I didn’t know what to do for my major or my classes.”
More than 5,500 miles away from home, Jankulovski was on his own in a new environment but knew he could always turn to someone: Hurricanes coach Aljosa Piric.
“I look at him as my father, in a way,” Jankulovski said about Piric, who is from Bosnia-Herzegovina. “Whenever I have a problem, I can call him. He helps me a lot, especially at the beginning of the year when I was homesick. I’m really thankful and grateful for him.”
After exchanging popular Macedonian tunes for hip-hop and splurging on the occasional McDonald’s run instead of his favorite home-cooked tavče gravče – a traditional Macedonian dish prepared with fresh beans, onions and assorted spices – Jankulovski has found his footing.
“Bojan has matured a lot in the last couple months,” Piric said. “He’s become accustomed to U.S. culture.”
The 6-foot-1, 183-pound freshman has made strides in competition as well. Jankulovski, who declared sport administration as his major after consulting with coaches, is 12-4 in singles matches and owns a 4-2 record in doubles play in 2018.
And despite quickly developing the maturity of a seasoned veteran, he still likes to cut loose by singing and dancing to his favorite new American songs with his teammates.
“Bojan is a hard worker on and off the court,” senior Niclas Genovese said. “He knows when the time is right to be a clown. He’s a hilarious dancer.”
And while the journey to the United States certainly wasn’t easy, Jankulovski’s parents never doubted their son. They knew he would thrive.
“In order to come to Miami from a country like Macedonia, it’s not easy,” Biljana Jankulovski said. “We had minimal financial support, but with a huge heart, he made it possible.”