The beginning of Senior Director of Player Development Komi Oliver Akli’s tennis journey is as inspiring as it is heartbreaking.
“I didn’t have anything, man. I used to play tennis barefoot, participate in tournaments with big holes in my shoes, and play with broken rackets. Growing up, my friends and I would play tennis in the streets after using charcoal to make the lines,” said Akli.
“I never had any private coaches growing up, and to pay someone to coach us? No, definitely not.” Akli said laughing.
Born in the small town of Kodjoviakope, Togo, Akli grew up just five minutes away from fellow Senior Director of Player Development Ali Agnamba and quickly became fast friends.
Akli’s love for tennis began at the age of six when he used to volunteer as a ball boy at a private club near his house. When members broke a racket, they gave it to him and he would spend countless hours hitting against the wall.
Extremely motivated and self taught, Akli described the wall as “his biggest coach ever” and worked tirelessly refining his skills. His perseverance finally paid off when he was selected to play for the Togo Federation at the age of 12.
“When I started playing with the Federation, I was able to travel outside the country. Playing for them also meant I was lucky compared to others, as I got some equipment, maybe a couple of rackets, and some shoes,” Akli exclaimed.
Akli would develop into one of the top players in the country. A three-time Davis Cup participant who also competed in qualifying for the 1996 Olympics, Akli
moved to the United States shortly after on the advice of friends currently living in America.
In 1999, he competed in the Legg Mason Tennis Classic and ousted Paulo Francisco from Angola, one of JTCC’s top players. Catching the eye of JTCC Director of Tennis Vesa Ponkka, Akli was asked to join JTCC as a coach.
In 2000, Akli joined JTCC after working with legendary coach Jack Schore at the Bullis School in Potomac, MD. One of the most tenured members on staff, Akli lists his top success stories as coaching Frances Tiafoe to an Orange Bowl title in 2015, and becoming a traveling coach to fellow star players Denis Kudla, Michell Frank, and Junior Ore.
Passionate about wanting to see his players succeed, Akli describes the most important quality a coach can possess.
“You have to go extra. You have to keep thinking about the players constantly in terms of ‘what can I do for this kid?’ You should be willing to listen to the players too. It can’t be just about you because you’re the coach,” Akli stated.
What advice does Akli have for young aspiring players?
“They have to work. Nowadays, too many players spend too much time on their phone then on the tennis court. At the next level, everyone is strong, fast, can run, and hit. So you have to ask yourself, ‘what else do you have besides those four things that can get you to the next level?”