Sophomore Hicham Belkssir loves to play soccer.
“In Morocco, I play soccer three times a week,” Belkssir said. “I always watch soccer on TV. I am a Barcelona fan.”
It is on the tennis court, however, that Belkssir is making his mark at Temple.
Belkssir is currently undefeated in singles play with a record of 6-0 in the fall season. The win by walkover against Princeton’s Josh Yablon at the Princeton Invitational does not count on his individual record, according to athletics communications. In addition to playing in the Princeton Invitational, Belkssir also competed in the Navy Invitational to begin the season.
“He is a lot more consistent than he was last year,” coach Steve Mauro said. “Last year he played much low percentage type tennis. This year he is keeping more balls in play and I think that is helping him a lot.”
Before coming to Temple, Belkssir competed in numerous Moroccan national tournaments and International Tennis Federation junior tournaments, where he played in the Qatar ITF Junior Open. Belkssir had a career-high ranking of 658 among junior players.
Since his freshman year, Belkssir has made some adjustments in the way he plays tennis.
Last year, when Belkssir first played tennis at Temple, he had to get accustomed to the surface of the court, along with the speed and bounce of the ball.
“On clay courts you have to be physical, whoever is more fit will win,” Belkssir said. “Here on hard courts, the point does not last long. It’s serve after volley, serve after volley. On hard courts, it is hard to hit back a lot of shots because the speed of the ball is a lot faster.”
Along with the difference between hard and clay courts, Belkssir also had to get adjusted to the indoor courts.
“Last year was my first year playing indoors and I didn’t like it,” Belkssir said. “It is even faster than hard courts. The lights are not bright enough. I think it’s a bit too dark inside. I like playing outdoors where the sun is shining. I don’t like the smell inside, I like breathing the fresh air outside. In Morocco, the tennis facility is in a [rural] area so now, being in Philly, I had to get used to it.”
Belkssir recalled the first time Mauro told the team they were moving from outdoors to indoors.
“It was mid-October or November last year when Coach just said, ‘Guys, we are going to start practicing indoors,’” Belkssir said. “What can I say? It is kind of my job to do it, so I just went and practiced there because it was really cold outside.”
Belkssir is still determined to modify to the differences in tennis he faced his first year at Temple.
“To adjust to the hard court, I just practice a lot,” Belkssir said. “We practice five to six days a week. That’s the only way you can get better.”
Belkssir’s current doubles partner, junior Kristian Marquart, is confident Belkssir will only continue to get better.
“To be honest, I expect that from him,” Marquart said. “He has a lot of potential. I knew he had the ability to win his matches. I just think it is hard if it is your first or second semester at school, you don’t really know how everything works. You are trying to get used to the early practices and the matches on hard court. So now that [Belkssir] is in his third semester, I think now he is more patient and is adjusting well.”
Belkssir said he is looking for ways to get better.
“I would want to improve on my returns because, like I said, it is faster on hard court so I have to get used to it,” Belkssir said. “I got used to it last year but I have to get used to it again. I want to get better on my returns and volleys. Sometimes I have approach shots and I am not finishing them well. Those are the kinds of details that make the difference in a match sometimes. Sometimes it’s just one or two points.”
Danielle Nelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Dan_Nels.