To see Andre Saleh, a talented 5-star freshman tennis recruit from Newport Beach, California, come to Nebraska might be a surprise. However, the 52nd-ranked recruit in the nation traces his decision back to when he first visited the campus.
“Once I came here, my dad came with me on my visit,” Saleh said. “Me and my dad were traveling for some tournaments, and then we stopped here on the way back; he saw everything I saw in the school. He saw what Sean [Maymi] and Tom [Boysen] could do for me, and he saw the resources I could get here.”
Head coach Sean Maymi identified Saleh as a top recruit early on, but it was when Saleh played a now-transferred recruit that Maymi started to seriously recruit Saleh.
“We saw him play, and he played well,” Maymi said. “From then, I reached out to a mutual friend who had done some work with him and trained with him a bit and had a lot of great things to say about his work ethic.”
Maymi also acknowledged the geographic concerns.
“You know, a kid from California — it’s tough getting them to come,” he said. “But they were really open about looking at schools outside California.”
And since Saleh has come to Nebraska, there have been some elements of homesickness. Specifically, he misses his family, his home and California sushi, though he made a point of saying that the sushi is good in Nebraska, too.
For Saleh, a high work ethic is required in order to meet the rigors of a standard day of training. He begins with weights for a full hour, then practices an hour after that. Some days, there is practice from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. There are also “individuals,” the colloquial name for one-on-one training sessions with a coach, that take place in the afternoon. A full class load on top of that can lead to physically and mentally taxing days.
This kind of training is necessary for Saleh, and he’s been working on his game since he could hold a racquet.
“I’ve had a racquet in my hand ever since I was a baby. There [are] baby pictures of me with a racquet in my hand walking around the house,” Saleh said, “But for serious training, I’d say I started around 8 and have always been super into it.”
This work ethic and dedication have led to his game today — something he takes pride in. He is especially proud of his serve.
“I take passion in my serve — some I’ve clocked in at 130 [mph],” Saleh said.
However, the game sometimes has its drawbacks.
“There’s a lot of losing in tennis,” he said. “I mean, nobody likes losing. And I’m a really competitive person so everything I do, I have to try and win it. Losing is not the most fun thing in the world.”
Another problem that tennis presents is the risk of injury, and it was injuries that curtailed Saleh from rising up the recruiting boards. Once ranked among the nation’s top 20, Saleh fell after a year-long break caused by a broken bone in his back. After recovering, and playing well in tournaments across America, he then tore the labrum in one of his shoulders, requiring extensive procedures.
Despite the rigorous commitment and injuries, Saleh loves his sport. He pointed out a match before Nebraska which he remembers well.
“I played a tournament in Houston, Texas, [and] it was one of my first lower-level pro tournaments I played, and I played a guy from Italy,” Saleh said. “It was in October, about two years ago. He was the first guy I beat with a professional ranking, and I played one of my best matches. I competed amazingly. It was really hot, so I was cramping, and it was a really close match — a really close three-setter.”
Maymi’s expectations are tempered for his young starlet. He hopes Saleh shows consistent improvement beyond just winning matches, and Saleh has enjoyed life under the second-year coach so far.
“Ever since the day he started recruiting me, I thought he was a really good coach,” Saleh said. “And then I talked to some people who knew him when he was an assistant coach at Michigan and they said, ‘Look, there’s no better coach in the country than Sean.’”
This summer represented a season of change for the Nebraska men’s tennis program. Only three out of the nine players on the roster are returning Huskers, and only one is a senior.
“I think we all see, ‘Yeah, we’re a young team. We’re a whole new team,’ and I think we see we can improve on last year,” Saleh said. “Having six new guys, we’ve all bonded together amazingly.”
And no, he doesn’t regret his decision.
“I love it [Nebraska]. The way the people treat me here makes me feel like I’m part of a family,” Saleh said. “It’s really something that I valued a lot. I wanted to go to a big school with a big athletic program that really cared about its sports, and the day I stepped on campus here for my visit, I was like, ‘This is where I want to be.’”