Amadou Diop, perhaps most famous on Muhlenberg’s campus as ‘Awa’s husband,’ assumed the role of assistant tennis coach last fall season. Over the last year, the Mules have developed as a team under the guidance of Diop, in addition to Head Coach David DeLaCasas Kurvink and Assistant Coach Jess Ament. Diop brings an extensive knowledge of the game to the team, and a wealth of fascinating life experiences. Diop was first connected to Muhlenberg while serving as the director of the international program at Rodale Institute. He gave lectures for the biology and French departments at Muhlenberg on his areas of agricultural expertise and sustainable development. His resume includes two master’s degrees and a Ph.D., in addition to an honorary doctorate from Muhlenberg, issued in 2003. He is pentalingual with the ability to speak English, Wolof, French, Russian and Spanish.
Diop began his life in Saint Louis, Senegal, located on the Atlantic Ocean. Diop recalls the movement for independence in Senegal, including riots in his home city leading up to the eventual independence in 1960. Family is, and has always been, very important to him, as his parents and grandparents were great influences on him. His father was well educated and worked for the ministry of finance.
He began his extensive education in Saint Louis, Senegal in 1971. Wolof is his native language but he learned French, Spanish, and English while studying in Senegal. Frustrated with the sometimes months-long education strikes while at the University of Senegal, he applied for and was accepted into a program in the Kuban region of Russia where he spent a total of six years, two of which were spent attaining his first master’s degree. He spent some time at Georgetown University participating in a research program, and from 1980-1982 he earned his second master’s in soil science in the Philippines. He began his Ph.D. program at Oregon State University in 1984 and finished in 1988.
He began playing tennis in 1978, which he did against a wall for two years without any coach. His game improved while in the Philippines and more so once he reached the United States. He spent two years in Nigeria doing research and was number one at the local tennis club. Finally, in 1996, Diop settled in his current home here in the Lehigh Valley where he began to get involved in tennis locally. He joined the United States Tennis Association (USTA) in 1996 and began playing at a 3.5 team, and later a 4.0 and 4.5 team. When initially filling out the paperwork for applying to the USTA team, they rated him a 2.0 due to his lack of high school and collegiate playing experience. However, this was appealed and his 3.5 teammates all recognized that Diop was better than them. He played at these levels for several years and began coaching in the 2000s following his certification and attendance at USTA seminars.
As a player, his table tennis skill influenced his early game and he has always had a love for drop shots. Perhaps most interesting about his tennis game is the fact that nearly all of it was attained without professional coaching and instead through extensive playing and skill. His wealth of knowledge about the game comes from hard work and dedication. This is noted by Josh Beson ‘24 who states, “Amadou adds a voice of wisdom to the tennis team. He has played tennis for a long time and thus knows the game very well. As a coach, Amadou gives us ways to improve our game in a supportive fashion as well as a kind leader who is understanding when we make mistakes.”
Diop’s coaching brilliance on the court is matched with his compassionate mentoring off of the court. Tennis is known to be an incredibly frustrating sport; yet, Diop is described by Benson as a “calming presence.” Benson goes on to say “The whole team is very committed and he knows that. It is nice that instead of being a coach that yells or gets worked up, he is supportive and understanding. After talking with him, I feel like I can fix my mistakes easily.” Teammates echo Benson’s gratitude for Diop’s presence with Sophia Framm ‘24 stating that “Coach Diop brings experience and instills confidence in us, as players through his focus on consistency and goal-setting.” Stefanie Wolff ‘24 added that as a coach, “Amadou adds a positive energy and light to the team. If any of us are having a bad day, as soon as we say ‘hi coach’ he just smiles at us and we feel a lot more at ease at practice and about life.”
In addition to coaching and playing, his passion for the game extends to watching and attending professional tennis matches. He has attended the U.S. Open at least 10 times and his favorite tennis players of all time include Pete Sampras, John McEnroe and Rafael Nadal. A highlight of Diop’s tennis career is the coaching of his daughter, Aida, who went on to play at Bloomsburg University. Diop also loves attending to his garden where he grows a diversity of crops. He has also amassed a collection of over 40 spoons from many of the countries he has visited. Diop hopes to one day open a tennis club in Senegal and is currently working on achieving this. When asked what life advice he would give young people, Amadou said “Keep your word, be truthful and always be timely.”