Iowa men’s tennis trio work to continue their success and leadership

With over 220 total wins between the three of them, Okonkwo, Davies, and Allaf look to lead the Hawkeyes this spring.


Megan Nagorzanski

Kareem Allaf hits a backhand during a men’s tennis match between Iowa and Cornell at the HTRC on Sunday, Mar. 8, 2020. Iowa defeated Cornell 4-3.

Will Fineman, Sports Reporter

The Iowa men’s tennis roster has a lot of fresh talent to watch out for this spring, but the team is looking to turn heads across the country behind the lead of three of its returning stars.

With a combined career, dual match, singles record of 127-66 and a doubles record of 112-60 between the three of them, fifth-year senior Kareem Allaf, junior Will Davies, and sophomore Oliver Okonkwo have been elite players for the men’s program at the forefront of the team’s success.

“Kareem, Oliver, and I have been able to lead from the front over the last couple of years in terms of rankings, wins, and all of that,” Davies said. “As long as the freshmen coming in are able to accept coaching and follow leadership, then I am sure we will have a team of guys that will be able to do the same thing.”

Since coming to Iowa in the 2017-18 season, Davies has been a winner. The Norwich, England, native has finished all three of his spring seasons with a winning record and ended the 2020 campaign with an outstanding 13-1 record in singles and a 6-4 record in doubles.

After a slow start to the fall because of a positive COVID-19 test in August, Davies has been able to compete in two men’s open events with the team.

“Personally, I don’t think I am at peak fitness, and I think there is still a little way to go,” Davies said. “I am sure that come the first match of the season I will 100 percent be there, and I think that goes for a couple of guys on the team.”

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Davies and Okonkwo were the first Iowa doubles pair in 20 years to qualify for the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Fall National Championships in 2019, and achieved a program-high No. 10 national ranking last spring.

“I am trying to be a leader on this team,” Okonkwo said. “When the season got cut, I was coming into this year with a fresh start thinking about the things I needed to improve on personally to be a leader on this team.”

Allaf is No. 2 in program history for combined singles and doubles wins and is coming off a season where he earned first-team All-Big Ten distinction, ITA Central Region Senior Player of the year, and ITA Central Region Most Improved Senior honors.

He spent most of the fall working and training at the John McEnroe tennis academy in New York City. After training with the team for a week in early November, Allaf went back home to the United Arab Emirates to train and spend time with his family, who he had not seen in over a year.

“For me, this has been a growth year, and I have improved a lot physically,” Allaf said. “I am in the best shape I have ever been and now I am fixing some of my technique on the court and developing some shots I didn’t have in the season.”

With the history book of Iowa tennis coming to a close after this year, Allaf says he is looking to move past last year’s accomplishments.

“I would hope everyone is holding themselves to a higher standard than last year because this is the last time this will ever happen for the University of Iowa,” Allaf said. “I set the standard really high for myself coming in last fall, and I am going to continue to push the ceiling a little higher.”

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