7m | Jovica Nikolic: ‘Vojvodina has helped me become better in every aspect of the game!’

Jovica Nikolic

One of the best representatives of the new handball generation in Serbian handball is definitely Vojvodina’s right back Jovica Nikolic. Born and raised in Novi Sad’s famous handball neighborhood Kac where 2001 EHF Challenge Cup winner Jugovic is from – the team in which great Arpad Sterbik made his first steps on the handball court.
What were the beginnings like?
I grew up in probably the most famous ‘handball village’ in former Yugoslavia and I was born on the exact same year Jugovic won EHF Challenge Cup led my one of the greatest goalkeepers of all time Arpad Sterbik. Obviously, that played a huge part in me deciding what I want to do. I mean, growing up I’ve obviously tried different sports but already at 6-7 years of age handball became my passion and  obsession. Jugovic had a really good school and the next step was Vojvodina.
How would you rate 2021 and your performances in it?
It was good. I am satisfied with individual development but also with everything we’ve managed to achieve as a team. I’ve managed to stay healthy and we’ve taken all the domestic trophies. We’ve also had a successful SEHA - Gazprom League campaign which is why I can conclude we were playing really good, quality handball.
One of the goals which you guys haven’t managed to achieve is to stay in EHF European League for a bit longer period of time. Unfortunately, you ended up short against Kadetten Schaffhausen in Round 1. Did then affect the team?
It wasn’t easy to continue after that. We strongly believed that we can make step forward on the European level. Although we had no luck at the draw, after +6 in the first match we had everything in our hands. Poor performance in the second leg in Switzerland however ruined everything. Europe was a strong motive for all of us younger players. It was a chance for the team to reach another level. Our focus however remains to keep on pushing and getting better.
You’ve joined Vojvodina’s first team at only 16 years of age. Which part of your game improved the most in these last 4-5 years in your opinion?
I believe I am a better overall player. Experience is obviously one of the things you have to build from scratch. I’ve started playing much better on the defensive side of the ball in the last two seasons and I am very satisfied about that. My shooting is better, I am better in 1-on-1 situations. Everything is fine but I feel like I’ve made the biggest improvement in my head. There is still room for improvement obviously, but I am much focused now. It was important to work on that in order to avoid injuries. Now I am much smarter when dealing with physically stronger players which is obviously helping me stay in game-shape for a much longer period of time.
With your 20th birthday behind you, are you starting to think about the future abroad?
My focus is on Vojvodina at the moment obviously. I’m not trying to get ahead of myself. However, I don’t want to like, of course I am thinking about where should I go next. I have a very good relationship with the club and my wish is for the offer to be acceptable both for myself and for Vojvodina. I’d like to be a part of the team which is playing strong, top-quality matches on a weekly basis which will give me minutes and opportunity to work with a good coach which will help me become better. I’m not focusing on finances just yet because I feel like this next step is the most important one when it comes to my personal development as I am still very young.
Who do you have the best on-court relationship with?
Playmakers are very important for me and Nemanja Pribak is a vital part of our offense. He simply gets things going. I feel like I understand him and his ideas very well and we are playing good together. Of course, line players are right there as well – both Ratkovic and Vukovljak in the defensive line. We have a really good roster here and a good atmosphere around the team and that’s the base for everything else.
Vojvodina’s coach Boris Rojevic is a very important man for your career. You’ve worked with him in younger categories and he’s given you a chance to show what you’re capable of in the first team.
Yeah, we are together for the last 5-6 years now. I know what he expects from me, but I also feel like he knows how to utilize me in the best possible way. We have a very good relationship and yes, I can say he’s played a huge part in my development. He is a very demanding guy. I remember, the day after winning the Serbian Championship he sends everyone a message naming the things that weren’t good and that have to improve. That’s his style. He never sleeps.
Where will Jovica Nikolic be in five years?
German Bundesliga. Best of the best are playing there in my opinion and being a part of all that would be a dream come true for me. That is my ultimate goal and I’ll do everything to achieve it.