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| 49 T hesegirlsembarkedonthenewandimportantchallengeof competingworldwideinvolleyballfollowingseriousprepara- tionsandwithgreatexpectationsanddesires,withthemotto “everygameisanewbattle”.InternationalsTijanaMalešević, Jovana Stevanović and Stefana Veljković spoke to us prior to taking on another sporting challenge - theWorld Championships in Japan (from29th September to 20thOctober). Isyourdesiretowinmedalsthesameasitwasbefore? JOVANA: I’mneverfullfrommedals[laughs].Iviewvictoriesand defeats in the sameway as I didbefore. My collection is onlymissing a medal from theWorld Championships, and evenifIwononeIwouldn’tstopthere[laughs]. TIJANA: That desire isn’t as pronounced withmeas it iswithJovana[laughs].This ismy secondworldchampionship,asIplayedin2014 in Italy, butmy contribution to thatwhole sto- ry wasn’t so great. It’s true that the Olympic Games represents the crown of one’s career, butit’senoughtosayworldchampionshipsfor that to sound like something special. Whatdoesitfeelliketodefendyourcoun- try’scolours? JOVANA: That’s the dream and desire of everyathlete.Itmeansalottome.Ilovemycoun- try and love to bring happiness to the people bywinning.Whenyou landattheairportwith amedal and see the faces of people, that feel- ing’s indescribable. It’s a great honour to play for the national team. STEFANA: That’s a special kind of emo- tionthatcan’tbecomparedwithanything.You need to experience that to understand it. It’s a great responsibility, especially when you play for a national team that achieves historic suc- cess. It’s up to us to give our all at every tour- nament and to be ready. TIJANA: We play abroad a lot, spending only a little time in Serbia, and we’re not even aware of howmuch joy we bring to people. I come from Užice, from a smaller envi- ronment, and I can feel that excitement evenmore.Whenyoudowhatyoulove andhaveachancetowinmedals,that’sa great gift both for us and for them. Howimportantisittoplayingwell for teammates to have good re- lations? TIJANA: Honestly, it’s very impor- tant.Whenyouhaveagoodunderstand- ingwithsomeoneprivately,it’seasierto transferthattothecourt.Butifyoudon’t get onwith someone, you leave that to one side while training takes place and whilematcheslast.Ifwewanttoachieve aresult,towin,everyplayermustbeour best friend, comrade, sister, everything. JOVANA: Youcan’tgetonandhang outwitheveryone.Somepeoplesuityou more,someless,butweallcometogeth- er to achieve one goal and look only to that goal. On the court everyone is our sister and brother, but off the court it’s a case of needsmust. STEFANA: I’ve been in the team sincetheageof17,sincemyteenagephase,nowwe’vealreadybecomewomen andknowtherulesofbehaviour.Specialchemistryisalwayscreatedonthecourt. Whatdothosefinalsecondslooklikepriortoanimportant,finalmatch? JOVANA: I tremble before every game, because I want to give my all. But I noticed that it’s hardest for me to play in front of my home audience, even if that’sonlyafriendlygame,because Iwanttodelightthem.There’snosuchten- sion playing abroad. TIJANA: I always have a strong desire and positive nervousness, but not fear that can prevent you fromgiving your all. I believe everyone has that nerv- ousness and excitement. STEFANA: Excitement. There is positive trembling,butitlastsonlybriefly.Assoonasthe matchbegins,thatslowlytranslatesintopower. And when you’re victorious, when you win amedal, howdo you celebrate? TIJANA: We celebrate immediately after thematchatthehotel.Thecelebrationactually lastsacoupleofdays[laughs]instages.Wefirst celebrate in the city where we win the medal, then we celebrate on the way back to Serbia, then in Belgrade, thenwith family and friends, and finally with club teammates. STEFANA: All emotions are expelled on thecourt.Ifourobligationspermit,wealsocel- ebrate in some nightclub. Animportantplaceamongthefansisoccu- pied by themembers of your families... JOVANA: My dad [Goran Stevanović, for- mer football player and coach] is my toughest critic,hepullsnopunches–notbecauseI’mhis daughter,butbecausehe’shonestateverymo- ment.Thatsometimeshitsme,butI’mgrateful to him for that and accept his criticisms. Natu- rally, he praises me when I deserve it [laughs]. Hesendsmemessagesbeforeeverymatchand before eachmatch I speak withmy family, my mom,mybrother.That’soneofmyrituals, Icall themand it’s easier for me. TIJANA: Family is the base from which everything stems; it is my support in everythingIdo,notjustinsport.Bothwhen things goes well and when they’re not so good, they are with me, to praise me and criticise me, but the most important thing is to take that the right way. STEFANA: They never criticise me, theyhavenoreason[laughs].Buttheysup- portme, watchme, we talk constantly, but I don’t like to talk about the matches un- til they’re over. Howdid you fall in lovewith this sport? JOVANA: My first coach, Marko Sto- jković fromSterija, askedmymother if she would bring me to volleyball training. She told him she could, but on condition that I bewithaselectedteam,andnotwith30or 40children.Hereplied:“HowcanIputherin acompetitiveteamwhenshedoesn’tknow anything?”She told him that I didn’t have to play, just to be in the team. I went to the first training, liked it and stayed. My mum pushedme into everything. TIJANA: I tried basketball and at one time I practised folklore, but I didn’t like it. JOVANA STEVANOVI (26) Iz Beograda je. Srednji bloker je u reprezentaciji, u kojoj igra od 2015. Okitila se medaljama na evropskim igrama, svet- skom kupu i evropskom prvenstvu. Kao najznačajnije i naj- teže utakmice izdvaja osvajanje državnog prvenstva Italije i polufinale sa SAD na OI u Riju. Igrala je za Crvenu zvezdu, sada nosi dres italijanskog kluba Savino del Bene Skandići. Krivac za sve je njena mama, čija je ideja bila da Jovana tre- nira odbojku. A native of Belgrade, this Middle Blocker has been playing for the national team since 2015. She has won medals at the European Championships, theWorld Cup and the Eu- ropean Championship. As her toughest and most impor- tant matches, she singles out winning the national cham- pionship of Italy and the semi-final of the Rio Olympics against the U.S. She’s played for Red Star and now wears the uniform of Italian club Savino Del Bene Scandicci. The blame for everything lies with her mother, whose idea it was for Jovana to train volleyball.