Aleksandar Atanasijevic in action at the 2018 VNL finals in Lille
Lausanne, Switzerland, March 1, 2019 – “The only thing better than playing a VNL tournament at home would be to play two VNL tournaments at home,” Aleksandar Atanasijevic told fivb.com. Serbia’s big star is really looking forward to the second edition of the FIVB Volleyball Nations League.
On the first weekend of this year’s VNL, from May 31 through June 2, Serbia will host a tournament, with both 2018 finalists, Russia and France, as well as Japan, making the trip to the southern European country. “It will be a big event, because people in Serbia love volleyball. The hall will be full and for us, players, it will be a pleasure to play at home,” said the 2.00m-tall opposite from Belgrade.
The great ambience at the hall in Kraljevo before a 2018 VNL game between Serbia and Brazil
In 2018, Serbia finished fourth in the preliminary round before ending up fifth at the finals in Lille. “It was a good result. There were only great teams in front of us and there were some great teams, such as Italy or Poland, also behind us in the standings. We are satisfied. Our goal for 2019 is to win as many matches as possible, advance to the final six and get a good result there. It will be really difficult, because there are a lot of matches and a lot of trips away from Serbia, but we have a good team that can fight against everybody. I like this competition, because you get to play against the best teams and the best players and this always helps you improve your performance.”
Later in 2018, Serbia made the semifinals of the FIVB World Championship, but failed to win a medal. Individually, Atanasijevic was the sixth best scorer and the sixth best spiker of the tournament. “We were dreaming of winning a medal at the World Championship and finishing fourth after three months of preparation was one of the worst defeats in my life. It was really disappointing, but we showed that we can fight with the best teams in the world,” the 27-year-old volleyballer said. “The individual performance is not so important, so I never really pay much attention to those rankings. The most important thing is to keep winning with your team.”
Atanasijevic, also known by his nickname Bata, had a fantastic 2017-2018 club season, both with his Italian team from Perugia, known as Sir Safety Conad domestically and as Sir Colussi Sicoma in the Champions League, and individually. Bata and his teammates won the Italian Championship, the Italian Cup and the Italian Super Cup, as well as bronze in Europe. He was named MVP of both Serie A1 and Coppa Italia. This season, the squad from Perugia have already defended the cup; they won their Champions League pool undefeated and lead the standings in the Italian league.
“Honestly, I am living my dream in Perugia! I came here six years ago. The club was not among the top ones, but we’ve been growing... Now we are one of the strongest teams in Europe and it is a big pleasure to be part of it. I hope this year we get gold in the Champions League. This is the big goal for the whole city and all the fans that come to support us,” continued Atanasijevic.
How does he cope with the pressure of playing alongside some of the biggest names in the world of volleyball? “There is a difference between positive and negative pressure. This pressure is really positive. It is easier to play alongside players like these, because they are ready to take responsibility even if you are not having a good day,” Atanasijevic replied. “My dream teammates? I already have them. So I would say Luciano De Cecco, Marko Podrascanin, Fabio Ricci, Wilfredo Leon, Filippo Lanza and Masimo Colaci, because we spend every day in the gym together and I think they are great guys, always giving 100%. They are the best players in the world and I respect them a lot.”
Busy as he is with his professional career, Atanasijevic manages to devote time to giving back. He and Serbian libero Nikola Rosic host an international volleyball camp for kids. “We started it four years ago. We wanted to help young hopefuls develop. It is a big pleasure to work with the kids. This year we will probably have 300 of them with the desire to improve. Volleyball camps can help you a lot, because in 10 days good volleyball coaches teach you many things you didn’t know before.”
Bata’s girlfriend, Elitsa Vasileva, also plays professionally for a strong Italian club. The big star of Bulgarian women’s volleyball is expected to rejoin her national team for their rookie VNL participation in May.
“We’re one hour away by car, so we see each other once a week. It’s perfect because we can stay focused on our principal job, volleyball, and then, at the end of the week, we can spend some great quality time together. And I don’t see volleyball as a job so much. I see it as a big pleasure and I think it is the best job in the world one can have,” Atanasijevic added. “For а player the most important thing is to have the support of family. I am lucky that my parents and my brother are with me 100%. They follow all the matches and the support they give me is really important to me.”