Tennis is considered an individual sport, but a tennis player needs more than just individual skill in order to be successful.
“When I was playing in Yemen, I was chosen to participate in many international championships but with very little support from my club I was unable to participate. That made me feel that even though tennis depends on the player and his effort on the court, he also needs the support and encouragement of the people around him,” said Ahmed al-Shawafi, a Mercer Tennis player.
A first year Liberal Arts major, al-Shawafi has been playing tennis for 8 years. Before coming to the United States for his senior year of high school at Hopewell Valley, he was making a name for himself playing tennis in his home country of Yemen.
“In Yemen, we had very little. We had very few courts and getting tennis balls could be difficult because, as players, we could not afford to buy many to practice with but we were able to beat places that had much more than we did because we were so passionate about the game,” said al-Shawafi.
The Men’s Tennis team at Mercer works to compete in the NJCAA (National Junior College Athletic Association) National Championship which takes place on May 11-17 in Plano, Texas.
There are two possible ways for the team to qualify for the national championship. The first way is for the team to rank within the top three schools in the regional championship, held on May 3-4 in Mercer County Park. The other way was for the First Singles player on the team to go undefeated over the course of the season.
Currently, al-Shawafi holds the position as First Singles on the team at Mercer. This position is selected at the start of the season and is based on challenge matches that are played against the rest of the members of the team. First is the highest ranked position on the team.
Al-Shawafi won the first six matches he played this season but took a loss last week against Bergen County College. “I was not mentally ready for the player from Bergen. However, we play again soon and I hope to do better. I’m trying to never underestimate anyone. I’m going to take one match at a time and play every point as if it’s match point,” he said.
Al-Shawafi moved to the United States because he was selected for an program to study abroad because of academic merit, but he proved to have chops on the tennis court while he was at Hopewell Valley High School. “I probably played around 20 something matches while in high school, and I only lost two of them,” Al-Shawafi said.
Most members of the Men’s Tennis team are only playing their first year of tennis at Mercer. Since Mercer is a community college, the athletic teams see a much shorter turnover rate than a traditional four year school would. This means that the team lineup has the possibility to change completely on a year to year basis. According to Marc Vecchiolla, Director of the tennis facilities in Mercer County Park and Mercer’s Tennis coach, only one player returned from last season to play this year.
“We needed nine guys for the team and nine guys came out. Our chemistry as a team has been very good so far though,” Vecchiolla said, “I want us to work hard, to have fun. And if we win some matches on top of that…well that’s just icing on the cake.”
“We practice every day, Monday through Friday, from 1:30pm until 3:30pm, except on days when we have a match,” said Al-Shawafi. “We spend that time doing drills and conditioning to get ready for the next match.”
Vecchiolla wants his team to be as well rounded as possible. “School always comes first and then tennis, but I believe tennis promotes structure for life. It teaches time management, strategic thinking, and problem solving.”
“I want my players to commit to the sport but also to each other as a team. Even though tennis is an individual sport, having dedication to the team is important,” said Vecchiolla.
Deleon and al-Shawafi are both satisfied with the tennis team at Mercer. “Thanks to the indoor courts, we were able to start practicing before other Spring sports, since the weather has been so bad, which was great. The coaches are very helpful and the facilities we have here are fantastic. We’ll travel to other schools and the courts are terrible, all cracked up,” Deleon said.
The Mercer Men’s Tennis team will play their next home match against Gloucester County College on April 16 in Mercer County Park.