By Lauren Jimmerson
As Iowa men’s tennis loses its two team leaders, Jonas Larsen and Kareem Allaf are in line to guide the team. The junior and redshirt sophomore have the tennis and personal skills necessary to continue building the Iowa program.
Larsen, who will return next season as the lone senior, has the most experience as a Hawkeye. As a freshman, the native of Koege, Denmark, spent time trying to find his position on the squad. He recorded 16 singles victories at Nos. 3-6 and 9 doubles victories at Nos. 1-3.
In 2017, Larsen landed his first winning records, finishing 18-15 in singles and 15-9 in doubles. This past season, the junior garnered the second-best team doubles record at No. 1 (17-8).
The junior was a Big Ten Sportsmanship Award Honoree this year, the only Hawkeye earning conference recognition. Assistant coach Matt Hagan believes Larsen has brought sportsmanship and leadership since the first day he stepped on Iowa’s courts.
“[Larsen] can get kind of negative, maybe, at times, but at the end, he’s very positive, and he’s doing anything he can do to try to fight back into a match and try to win,” he said. “I think that’s probably the most important thing you can do.”
Larsen overcame deficits in three singles matches this year, dropping the first or second set and battling back to clinch a third-set victory. He is confident about his contributions on the court, especially during the outdoor season.
“Outdoors, we play on clay, so you can slide on the court, and the ball bounces a little higher,” he said. “Everything is just a little bit different … my game fits more to the outside environment than indoors … always gets my confidence high.”
The Hawkeyes had slim opportunities to play outside in Iowa City this season, but in their outdoor début at the Hawkeye Tennis & Recreation Complex, Larsen and Allaf cruised to a 6-2 doubles victory at No. 1.
Playing strong from the backcourt, Allaf and Larsen reached their highest national doubles ranking this season, rising to No. 54. They both won a career-best five-straight doubles matches and took down four nationally ranked tandems.
“We know we are solid from the baseline,” Larsen said. “We can win against any team from the baseline.”
As a redshirt-sophomore, Allaf is no stranger to earning a leadership role on the team.
In two years, he’s contributed numerous doubles and singles victories. He ended his second season on a nine-match win streak at No. 4 and holds a perfect 7-0 record against Big Ten opponents. Proving to be a strong asset in the middle of the singles lineup, the native of Dubai spent this season grabbing 22 victories at No. 1 doubles — the fourth-most in program history for a single season.
“He’s 100 percent committed to his tennis, 100 percent committed to his studies, 100 percent focused mentally on the court, and he’s really starting to believe in himself,” head coach Ross Wilson said. “[Allaf] has always been a really talented tennis player … arguably, he may be our best player right now. If he can continue that, I think he can be a top-50 player in college tennis.”
Allaf’s early college success also shows he could guide the team toward more accomplishments in the next two years. The redshirt sophomore claimed 23 singles victories last season, tying for the ninth-most in a single season in program history.
The future for Hawkeye tennis will only get brighter.
“Throughout the time that I have been here, we have only gotten better every single year. I see that continuing,” Larsen said. “We have some really good recruits coming in, and the guys that are freshman right now have been having an outstanding year. I can only see them build on that, and they are getting more mature every day. I’m just excited to go out there and battle with those guys because I know they are going to [get] better and better.”