GARRET MEADE FILE PHOTO | Chris Ujkic has been the No. 1-ranked men’s open singles player in the United States Tennis Association’s eastern section for nearly two years.
Say this about Chris Ujkic, he is a man of surprises.
Ujkic said he was only an average student when he attended Mattituck High School. He went on to graduate at the top of his class at Sacred Heart University (Conn.), summa cum laude. He has since scored in the 96 percentile on the law school admissions test and will attend New York Law this fall on a rare full scholarship. He currently works for the Manhattan law firm of Lackey, Hershman LLP.
As hard as it is to believe now, Ujkic, 24, said he was overweight when he was younger. A couple of months ago, he entered his first bodybuilding competition — and took first place!
As busy as Ujkic is, one might naturally assume that he sleeps like a log. Not true. “My sleep is horrendous,” he said, estimating that he gets only between four and a half to six hours of shut-eye a night.
And then there is something that is not nearly so surprising, but impressive nonetheless.
Ujkic was recognized last Wednesday as the No. 1 ranked men’s open singles player in the United States Tennis Association’s eastern section. He was presented with a trophy bearing his name and ranking at an awards ceremony at the Crest Hollow Country Club in Westbury. It is not the first time that Ujkic has been the section’s top-ranked player, but he said this is the longest he has held the ranking, nearly two years.
Fitness has been a part of Ujkic’s game ever since he reigned on Mattituck High School’s courts and then starred for Sacred Heart. He said he is fitter than ever and, as a result, unafraid to go for winners, knowing he can rely on his legs to outlast opponents should he fall behind.
“Fitness used to be my number one weapon, the speed around the court, my defense,” he said last week during a 71-minute phone interview. “Now I’m even fitter. I can fall back on fitness even more, can defend until those guys’ legs fall off.”
Ujkic’s life is a busy mix of tennis, law, nutrition and bodybuilding. All require hard work and commitment, and he is afraid of neither.
Last summer Ujkic’s tennis playing took a back seat to studying. He spent months with his head buried in law books, preparing for the biggest academic challenge of his life, the law school admissions test. He was undeterred by the difficulty. Ujkic describes his attitude as: “I can do whatever I want. There’s nothing that’s going to stop me.”
After passing the test, he applied to over 20 law schools before gaining the full scholarship from New York Law.
COURTESY PHOTO | Chris Ujkic posing with the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge in the background after grabbing first place in his first bodybuilding competition.
Ujkic, who lives in Astoria Park, undoubtedly knows more than most people about nutrition. He has read over 40 books on the subject and, referring to his younger days when he was overweight, “I’ve tried every diet under the sun.”
Ujkic said he eats a lot, but he eats healthy. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t allow himself a treat like ice cream every now and then. He does make room in his diet for one weakness: popcorn.
“I’m a popcorn addict,” he said.
Popcorn, he said, gives him energy. “That’s what I keep on telling myself at least,” he said.
Coupled with the dieting are the punishing, “masochistic” workouts Ujkic puts himself through.
Recently, Ujkic has tried bodybuilding, and enjoyed virtually immediate results. He entered a competition in March and, after two and half hours, walked away with the first-place trophy. “I happened to look like the judges wanted that day,” he said.
Ujkic is looking forward to another bodybuilding competition next month. He said he will be in the best condition of his life for that one.
“I’m kind of pushing myself so much harder in the gym,” he said. “I’m a little bit bigger and little bit more cut than I was the previous show.”
With all his activity, Ujkic keeps others updated on his latest developments through social media. He said he has 21,000 people following him on Twitter.
Ujkic said he keeps in mind the sacrifices family and friends have made for him as he tries to get the most out of life. He does have one complaint, though, a result of all his workouts and tennis matches. “My laundry sucks,” he said.
When he played for Mattituck, Ujkic was known for his enthusiasm for tennis and always being on the lookout for an opponent to play against. He said that enthusiasm remains.
Ujkic came within two matches of qualifying for the U.S. Open last year. In a United States Tennis Association qualifying tournament for the U.S. Open, Ujkic won three matches before being narrowly defeated by professional journeyman Mehdy Karbid of Morocco, 6-4, 7-5.
Undeterred, Ujkic said he will enter the qualifying tournament for the U.S. Open once again this year.
Many may know Ujkic as a standout tennis player, but there is much more to Ujkic than tennis. He is friendly, generous with his time and happy to dispense advice on nutrition and other matters.
“He’s one of a kind,” said Kieran Corcoran, a tennis player from Tenafly, N.J., and a lawyer who is Ujkic’s boss at Lackey, Hershman LLP and a friend. “He’s got a lot of bandwidth.”
Corcoran, who is 20 years Ujkic’s senior, has known him for about 11 years. He said Ujkic has self-confidence mixed with an eagerness to learn from others.
“He has a desire to be excellent, and that’s a genuine desire,” Corcoran said. “He has a fierce determination to do well.”
And, oh yeah, there is one more quality about Ujkic that stands out: He is relentless. “You can’t teach relentless,” said Corcoran.
Ujkic’s manner is conducive to making friends. “He’s a really nice guy and he’s very friendly without being obsequious or fake,” Corcoran said. “So people are attracted to him. People want to be around him and share in his sunshine.”
In the meantime, life is good for Ujkic. He said he will once again play in the Bob Wall Memorial Tennis Tournament this summer. He has won six straight men’s open singles championships and 18 titles overall (including men’s doubles and mixed doubles) in the tournament, which is sponsored by TimesReview Newsgroup.
“I’m playing a lot of tennis,” he said, “I’m eating a lot of food, and I’m very excited about eating popcorn tonight.”