Posted: Tuesday May 30, 2006 11:04AM; Updated: Tuesday May 30, 2006 3:29PM
"If I were 21, sure," he continues. "Why not? But I want to get a Masters degree. That's another two years. Maybe an MBA. I know that surprises a lot of people, but you have to make decisions in your life. Tennis is great. It's fun and everything. But at some point, real life starts and you've got to be prepared.''
This isn't the first time that Kohlloeffel has put his education ahead of tennis. He effectively did that by choosing to play collegiately at UCLA.
Like most Germans, Kohlloeffel graduated high school when he was 19, and then spent a year in the army. (All Germans are required to serve one year in civil service or one year in the army.) He took a year off, then decided to enroll at UCLA when he was 22. If he'd wanted to be a pro tennis player, his window had pretty much closed before he ever boarded a plane to cross the Atlantic.
"Over there, it's a whole different setup. University sports don't exist,'' he said. "The best athletes don't even go to college. When you're 16, you can get a degree and be finished with school and that's what most athletes do. I wanted to play tennis in college. I had a friend, Tobias Clemens, who played at UCLA and he called to ask me if I would be interested in coming over, so this was pretty much the perfect situation.''
Kohlloeffel's story is more common in collegiate tennis than you might imagine. Six of UCLA's 14 players are foreign-born, including his doubles' partner, fellow German, Philipp Greundler. Many of the top American junior players never even bother with collegiate tennis. Those who do, tend to leave after a couple of years if they are successful enough.
"The American kids are brought up with the attitude that they're going to play tennis, and if they become a really good junior, they're going to go to college and get a full scholarship,'' Martin said. "The foreign kids [are] like, 'Are you kidding me, I can go to America and get my school paid for and play tennis? They're a lot more grateful, quite honestly, than the American kids.''
Kohlloeffel is especially so. Despite his initial difficulty with certain English words, he's made the Dean's List almost ever semester he's been at UCLA. He's constantly in touch with professors and seeking their guidance. And considering how many cell phone calls he received in the span of a 30-minute interview, he's become a pretty popular man in Westwood.
"You just have to get the language in your ear,'' he said. "Once you get the accent in your ear, it's no problem.''