Hometown: Doboj, Bosnia
A refugee from a war-torn land, she found a safe haven—and a touch of home—in the Berkshires
After every practice the Williams College women's tennis team heads to the dining hall together. As a senior captain and the No. 1 singles and doubles player for the defending Division III champions, Selma Kiki? felt she couldn't break from that tradition. So she postponed a scheduled interview and caught up with the team. As Kiki? shuffled along the food line, a teammate was surprised to see her. "You're back already?" she asked. "I thought you were going to tell your story." It was a fair point, for Kiki?'s tale is far more involved than explaining how she imparts topspin.
She was a budding young tennis star in May 1992 when tanks of the Serbian army rolled into her hometown of Doboj, Bosnia. Within weeks her family, which is Muslim, was told by an acquaintance that it had been placed on a "death list," marked for so-called ethnic cleansing. Selma's mother, Almira, a pediatrician, and her father, Mensur, an environmental engineer, concocted a story that would allow them to escape. They told the Serbian authorities—and their daughters, Selma, then 12, and Sanida, 10—that Almira needed surgery in another city and that Mensur had to take the girls to Almira's mother's home in a nearby town.
The ruse worked, and in June, after a circuitous bus trip through Bosnia and Croatia, the family reached the Adriatic island of Kor?ula, part of Croatia. Still unaware of the truth, Selma figured the family was simply taking a strange summer vacation, and in late August she asked her mother when they would return for school. She sobbed when she finally learned they wouldn't be going back to Doboj. "It's shocking to discover at that age that there are people who hate people like me," Kiki? says. "Your whole innocence is suddenly taken away, and you wake up in this grim, adult world."
The Kiki?es entered the U.S. as refugees, landing in Dallas in May 1993. That's when tennis began to help open doors for Selma. As a Doboj city planner, her father had overseen the construction of the town's first two courts and had encouraged his daughters to play. Once in the U.S., Selma, who had taken part in her country's Olympic development program, came to the attention of Craig Bell, then the tennis pro at the University Club of Dallas, where she began training. That paved the way for Selma and Sanida to enroll in 1994 at Hockaday, a prestigious all-girls Dallas prep school.
Selma thrived at Hockaday and quickly climbed into the top 10 of Texas's junior rankings. She fielded several scholarship offers from Division I schools, but Hockaday coach Becky Mallory, a Williams grad, enthused over her alma mater, and when Kiki? visited Williams, her mind was made up. "The mountains, the trees, the colors, the little town—it all reminded me so much of Bosnia," Kiki? says. "It was the first time I felt at home since I left."
Kiki? is now a four-time tennis All-America (as well as a second-team All-America in squash). She'll graduate in June with a psychology degree. The Ephs are 11-0 this spring and ranked No. 1, with victories in 30 of their last 31 matches. If they win their NCAA regional at Williams on May 10-11, they'll advance to the national quarterfinals the next weekend at Sweet Briar College in Virginia. Williams coach Julie Greenwood is counting on Kiki? to show the way. " Selma gives us competitive leadership that's unparalleled," Greenwood says. "She has an incredible on-court presence that inspires her teammates."
Kiki? is prepared for the challenge of leading the Ephs' title defense. After all, she has survived far more difficult tests. "I could not be happier," Kiki? says. "People believe in me so much that I've come to believe in myself."