At the beginning of the season, both tennis teams from the University of Indianapolis began the year ranked first for the men, and fifth for the women, within the Midwest region. Both teams are led by Head Coach Malik Tabet, who played collegiate tennis before becoming a coach.
“It [coaching] is an awesome job,” Tabet said. “Tennis has been my whole life pretty much. I grew up playing tennis and came to the United States to play college tennis. Then I became a graduate assistant coach and then decided to pursue a coaching career. I love everyday of it.”
As a collegiate athlete, Tabet won the NAIA national championship while attending the University of Mobile (Ala.) while simultaneously becoming an NAIA All-American. Tabet was also an international tennis player, playing for the Algerian National team from 1991-95. He won the 1995 Sham International Tennis Open and the Gillette International Tennis Open in Rosas, Spain.
He then qualified for the French National Championship after becoming champion of the French Rhone-Alps Region.
Since the 2012-13 season, Tabet has coached the tennis programs to multiple national rankings, including the women’s team to the sixth in the midwest in his first season. Tabet has coached five separate appearances in the tennis Sweet 16 tournament, according to UIndy athletics, which is a style competition featuring 16 teams that will face each other, with the last team undefeated becoming the national champion.
Reaching the Sweet 16 had never occurred prior to Tabet’s tenure in UIndy tennis history. This season, Tabet said he has high goals for the tennis teams.
“Every year is about winning the conference and making it to the nationals,” Tabet said. “Making it to the Sweet 16 is the ultimate goal, and when we get there, you play the top 16 teams in the country and anything can happen.”
In Division II tennis, teams must win the first two rounds within their region to make it to the Sweet 16, according to Tabet.
Tabet has also coached his teams to five GLVC championships, two for the women and three for the men. According to UIndy athletics, Tabet has not lost a conference game with the men’s team since the end of the 2012-2013 season and has only lost three matches in conference since then. The women’s team has only lost four matches since then as well.
“The last few years we have made it to the Sweet 16, and last year, the men made it to the Final Four which was very exciting for us,” Tabet said.
Sophomore tennis player Alina Kislitskaya describes the average practice under Tabet as lasting around two hours and consisting of a variety of drills.
“Sometimes we play some single drills for 30 minutes, sometimes we play doubles, but it is hard,” Kislitskaya said. “On Mondays we run a lot because we do not have practice on Saturdays and Sundays, so coach is killing us on Mondays.”
According to Kislitskaya, mental toughness is the most difficult part of playing tennis, but Tabet prepares them for that.
“You can work on it physically and in the gym and during the practices but when you are down early in the match and your teammates are down it is tough to stay up,” Kislitskaya said. “Mental toughness is the hardest thing and coach talks about it all the time during the season.”
Tabet said he feels that UIndy has given him the opportunity to make it to nationals and be successful there. With the men going to the to national semi-final match last year, they have seen national success before. Tabet not only wants his athletes to be successful on the tennis courts, but in their lives as well.
“My philosophy as a coach, we don’t just train to become a better tennis player, we train to become a better person,” Tabet said. “We’re trying to prepare ourselves for the real life. Real life is that you’re gonna go to work, you have to have discipline, you have to be focused, you have to know how to handle pressure. This is not about possibly winning trophies, this is about us getting ready for the real life. And my student athletes understand that philosophy and they run with it.”
Tabet said that his athletes come back after they graduate and talk about his philosophy.
The tennis teams’ post-season begins May 11 for the men and May 13 with women starting the NCAA Regionals. If the teams win, they will advance towards the Sweet 16 and a potential national championship.