Hawkeye tennis player Oliver Okonkwo adjusts to life in the U.S.

Freshman tennis player Oliver Okonkwo has had a hard time adjusting to American tennis.


Shivansh Ahuja

Iowa tennis plays against Western Michigan in Iowa City on Friday, Jan. 19, 2018.

Cody Smith, Sports Reporter

Heading to Iowa as a highly rated recruit from across the Pond, freshman Oliver Okonkwo has adjusted both his game and personal life.

Okonkwo is one of two freshmen on the Iowa men’s tennis roster. Originally from Berkshire, England, he took home championships in the 2016 Aegon Winter County Cup and the Grade 4 International Tennis Federation. His résumé also includes doubles runner-up finishes in the 2016 and 2017 British National Championship.

After dominating the competition overseas, he saw an opportunity to come play college tennis in the United States. Okonkwo used a tennis agency, Stars and Stripes, to get in touch with Iowa head coach Ross Wilson, and the two agreed that Okonkwo would be a great fit for Hawkeye tennis.

Moving to a different country can be a difficult adjustment for an 18-year-old. Especially when the person doesn’t have family there for support along the way.

“This is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life,” Okonkwo said. “I’m in a different country, different cultures. I’m glad I have had people help me along the way.”

RELATED: Iowa men’s tennis junior Kareem Allaf wins ITA Central Regional

Another adjustment Okonkwo has been forced to make is gaining time-management skills. The time commitment to the sport is much greater here than it was for him in the United Kingdom, making it difficult to balance student life and athletics life.

“I find it hard to balance school and tennis, especially these first couple of weeks of the semester,” he said.

It’s hard to keep up with academics when a person has practice Monday through Friday, early morning weightlifting Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. Not to mention 12-hour days when playing in tournaments over the weekends.

“The level of play is really tough here; there are no guarantees or easy matches,” Okonkwo said. “College tennis is a lot more physically demanding, as I found out this last weekend.”

Although he doesn’t have much experience to draw on for college matches, he has made a smooth transition on the tennis court. Through two tournaments, he has been one of Iowa’s most consistent players, making deep runs. Last weekend, he joined sophomore Will Davies and junior Kareem Allaf in the Round of 16 in the Central Regional.

Okonkwo is still getting used to playing tennis as a member of a  team. When he played in the UK, he typically played by himself. For this reason, he has really enjoyed the team supporting him when he has competed.

“My favorite part of Hawkeye tennis is definitely the boys supporting me,” Okonkwo said. “In the UK, we really didn’t play team tennis, so when the boys are behind me, it makes my tennis really enjoyable.”

Okonkwo will try to keep up his early success as he gets ready to compete in his third fall tournament of the season. The Hawkeyes will be back in action Friday at the Big Ten Indoor Championships in Ann Arbor, Michigan.



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