Since he was a young boy perfecting his craft on the Smash Tennis Academy courts in Cairo, Egypt, Tufts University’s men’s tennis coach Omar El Kheshen had always dreamed of taking his tennis to the next level and beyond.
Even Omar’s coach growing up told his parents with conviction: ‘he’s going to be a great tennis player for the country.’ That coach’s vision turned out to become a reality, as Omar represented Egypt on its national team from the 12 and under up until the age of 18; at that point in his junior career, Omar had reached a career high ITF junior ranking of 240 in the world and was one of the highest-ranked Egyptians on the Junior Circuit in his age group (those born in 1992) who’d advanced in the African and Arab championships each year. For him, a professional career was the logical step in the right direction. That was until he heard about another route that would change the course of his career forever.
“I didn’t have the college tennis aspect in my head — it wasn’t that popular back in 2011 [for people back at home]. My whole focus as a junior was to make it to the junior grand slams,” says the current C10 EVO coach about his initial reaction to the thought of postponing a professional tennis career for college.
But at the recommendation of his American tennis coach Bill Eastburn at his home academy, Omar changed his mind and instead set out to pinpoint which university was the best match for him.
“My whole focus was to find the best school with the best scholarships,” says Omar who played his first year of college tennis at FAU before rounding out his career at Southwest Baptist University.
In terms of juggling school with tennis commitments and transferring universities, the move was far from simple.
“It was not easy,” says Omar, who said the support of his teammates propelled him to a stronger place on and off the court. “The head and assistant coaches at Southwest Baptist made it easier for me to adapt and fit in with the team right away. They were all super nice — from the head coach to even the president of the university.”
Since his alma mater has a small student-body relative to other DII schools, Omar felt that allowed for an even closer bonding experience between the student-athletes and administrators.
“Even the president of the university traveled to the NCAA tournament, and I remember him coming and cheering loudly,” recalls Omar of that joyous experience. “Normally, I’d see him in a suit and tie and then for these matches, he’d come with the purple attire and the shorts! After the matches, he’d take the team out to dinner. That was a lasting memory!”
Things came full circle after his college tennis career came to a close, as Omar and his wife jointly coached the men’s and women’s teams at Southwest Baptist in 2018-2019 season before their journey to Boston recently! These days, the 30-year-old can be found in the Boston area, around the country and even the world recruiting for the Tufts men’s tennis team, which just made history! It’s the first time ever that a doubles squad won the ITA regionals event and reached the final of the NCAA Division III championships, an absolute dream from the player’s perspective and of course, a rewarding achievement for the coaches’ corner. While practices kick off in February and it’s technically the off-season right now, Omar says he plans on keeping the momentum going and is always on the lookout for talented players to join his team’s roster at Tufts.
“For my story, I just keep working hard and believing that I belong to the best places,” says Omar, who previously served as the assistant women’s tennis coach at nearby Harvard and is certified by the ITF and ATP in fitness and tennis coaching. “No one would expect a guy from Egypt to be the assistant at [these universities].”