From Iowa to Dubai and Back Again

Oct. 15, 2015

fbgold.jpgtwitgold222-bluebird.jpg fbblack.jpg twitblack-whitebird.jpg

Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide. To receive daily news from the Iowa Hawkeyes, sign up HERE.

By SYDNEY OCKER IOWA CITY, Iowa — Kareem Allaf was born in Des Moines to Syrian parents, but by the age of 2 he had a new place to call home. The Allaf family left for Dubai when Allaf was barely old enough to walk. By the time he returned to the United States, he was playing tennis.

“(My dad) got me into the game to see if I liked it or not and I did,” said Allaf. “After a few years I found that I could play.”

Allaf first took the court when he was 7 years old, but didn’t begin competing in tournaments until he was 10. His first competition was a local tournament in Dubai. He says his passion for tennis escalated from there.

Just two years after that first tournament, Allaf received an invitation to play for the Syrian National Team. His time on the team eventually led him to the Davis Cup in March, 2015.

“I played the first match, and I won. It was a lot of pressure,” said Allaf, “It’s one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.”

Allaf hopes his experience on the college court will be similar to the one he had in March.

“Playing for your country… people were coming from everywhere to support you,” he said. “People you don’t know just sitting outside and supporting you and wanting you to win. That was a big jump for me.”


The Davis Cup was not the only tournament Allaf played in over the summer. He spent the last few months traveling the world, starting the season in Abu Dabi, before finding his way to Lebanon, France, Moroco, Austria, and Tunisia.

In Lebanon, Allaf competed in a Futures Event where he received his first professional points by retiring a ranked opponent in the second round.

He admits he felt the pressure of the match beforehand, but didn’t let that deter him from his goal.

“Tennis can show what type of person you are on the court,” Allaf said. “Whether you want to stay in there and compete, or back down and not compete and lose at the end.”

Allaf’s summer travels taught him a few valuable lessons that he hopes to apply on the court at Iowa.

“It taught me that tennis is a tougher sport than I expected, and I need to work more in order to be the best I can be,” he said.

Allaf’s summer schedule was so busy, it made it difficult to visit any of the schools he was considering for college. He had to make a decision from halfway around the world, but said the coaching staff at Iowa made it easy.

“The former assistant here, Ty Shaub, came to me in Austria around May,” said Allaf. “At the end I liked Ross and Ty as coaches. They showed a lot of interest in me, and I decided to sign with Iowa.”

Allaf’s first day on campus was his first time back in the U.S. in 16 years.

“I’m here to try and improve the team as a player, and I need to learn how to become better on and off the court,” he said.

Allaf has found his transition from an individual athlete to a team member to be an easy one.

“Individually, you’re on your own, but as a team there are people with you to stay with you, support you, and correct what you do wrong,” he said. “They practice with you all the time and they’re with you all the time. It’s much better like that.”

Print Friendly Version