Fazal Syed has always wanted to give back to the Philadelphia tennis community since he came to the United States from India in 1995.
He played for Temple from 1995-98 before starting a four-year professional career. Now, he is a coach at Level 7 Tennis Academy, a training facility for children between the ages of 3 and 18 that Syed founded in Malvern, Pennsylvania.
Syed was recognized at an awards ceremony this month for his desire to build character in children learning tennis by the United States Tennis Association’s Middle States section.
Syed received the 2017 Middle States Professional of the Year award, which is given to an individual who shows exceptional character and leadership within their community and tennis coaching, according to the USTA.
“It’s just a prize, but it also inspires me to do more,” Syed said. “I want to serve better. I want to serve more people. … My personal goal is to have 10 players better than me coming out of this region. That way, I will be able to someway repay my gift that I have gotten by coming to America.”
Syed left India at age 18 to play for Temple and pursue a professional tennis career.
While at Temple, Syed played in the top singles and doubles spots and served as the team captain in 1997 and 1998. He earned All-Atlantic 10 Conference honors in the 1996, 1997 and 1998 seasons. The USTA ranked him as the No. 1 amateur during the 1997-98 season.
While on the professional tour, Syed represented India in the Davis Cup, an international tournament with more than 100 countries, from 1998-2001. In 2000, he won the grass court championship in India. Syed continued to occasionally play tennis after he stopped touring. He won the USTA Men’s 35 singles grass court championship in 2011 and claimed a doubles title in 2010.
After his career, Syed had a short stint in the banking business that lasted from 2005-08. At the same time, he was teaching tennis. When he returned from a backpacking trip he took to Turkey with a friend in 2010, he was encouraged to coach tennis full-time. He decided to quit his job as real estate agent and began Level 7 Tennis in 2014.
Syed has worked on several projects and events with Delia Sescioreanu Mask, who played professionally from 2002-05 and is now a community development manager for USTA Middle States.
The two collaborated for a three-hour tennis clinic and interfaith sports event called “Love ALL: Get on Court, Build Bridges, Connect Hearts” last September. More than 120 people attended the event, which raised money to support youth programs at the Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia — which was founded in 2004 to unite people of different faiths.
“It is refreshing to see Fazal taking the lead bringing people together, and to see what a passion he has for using tennis as a positive influence,” Sescioreanu Mask wrote in an email.
Syed founded Level 7 Tennis on seven virtues: wisdom, contribution, courage, compassion, knowledge, courtesy, courage and industry. The programs aim to improve the skills of all players, whether casual or competitive, and build character.
Syed encourages young people to take on the challenge of being an athlete.
“It tests your motivation and time management skills,” he said. “It shows that you are somebody of passion, someone with discipline and somebody who wants to excel, somebody who is well-rounded. You get to meet different people from fragments of society.”
When Syed helps a player succeed at a task he has taught, he feels he has accomplished his job as a coach.
After receiving his award from the USTA, Syed said hopes to reach more people and improve his community service.
“You are as good as your ability to serve,” Syed said. “In life, you have to serve people well and play your part.”