Thursday's Conversation With New Mexico's Samir Iftikhar

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Welcome to Thursday’s Conversation. Each week, one Mountain West student-athlete will be featured by answering a series of questions.

Joining the conversation this week is New Mexico’s Samir Iftikhar. The senior from Bookham, United Kingdom, is a member of the Lobo men’s tennis team. Iftikhar has been named to the All-MW team twice in singles (2013-14) and once in doubles (2014). He’s also an experienced player on the international circuit, having represented Pakistan in the Davis Cup the past two years.

Iftikhar and the Lobos close out the regular-season on Saturday in Colorado Springs, playing at Air Force. A win earns New Mexico at least a share of the Conference’s regular-season title. The Lobos are serving as host of the 2015 MW Men’s and Women’s Tennis Championships, which run April 22-26 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, at the McKinnon Family Tennis Stadium. The entire 2015 MW Tennis Championships will be broadcast live and for free on the Mountain West Network.

Question: The regular-season is wrapping up this weekend and New Mexico has a chance to clinch at least a share of the regular-season championship with a win at Air Force. How important is that to the team?

Answer: It is really important to us, especially to the older guys because it’s been a while since we’ve won the regular-season title. We’ve always been pretty close and I think it’s going to be a nice reassurance that our process is working, as we’ve put in a lot of time and effort to change things up in how we do things.

Q: You had a great fall season and strong start to the spring season, but then suffered a broken wrist. Did you think your season and career at New Mexico was over when the injury happened?

A: As soon as I fell over, I knew I had (broken the wrist) because I had done the same thing my freshman year right before regionals and it broke the same way. At the time of the injury, I played on for a set and a half but came up short. My opponent was full-body cramping, so he couldn’t move and I couldn’t hit the ball (laughs).

The injury was disappointing coming off a great fall and earlier in the day I had beaten the No. 28 player in the nation from Texas Tech and was in good form. It did make a difference to the season; it would’ve been nice to have been there the six weeks I was out, but I’m happy I was able to get back into the lineup now.

Q: Are you 100 percent?

A: The wrist feels fine now and I can train without any issues. The lack of on-court preparation is something I still have to recover from. You can’t get that back overnight. I understand that and I’m just trying to do the best I can do and that’s all you can ask for.

Q: Watching you over the years, you seem to enjoy playing in those match-clinching situations. True?

A: I love that. Those are the moments I’ve been preparing for since I got to New Mexico. I want to be the last guy on the court and have the team result come down to my match.

Q: How would you describe your time at New Mexico as you prepare for you last few weeks playing in a Lobo uniform?

A: It’s been some of the best, most fruitful years of my life. To be surrounded by such great teammates, coaches and the Albuquerque community, it’s truly been a privilege. Everyone in the community cares about your so much and that is something that’s hard to find.

Q: You’ve been fortunate enough to play some high-level international tennis, including representing your home country Pakistan in the Davis Cup. What were those Davis Cup experiences like?

A: Those experiences show me how much I love this game and that I really want to pursue it as a career. Playing with big crowds, big pressure, it’s what you play for and it’s a dream of any aspiring athlete.

Q: In addition to his on-court accomplishments, you’ve also excelled in the classroom. You’re a three-time MW Scholar-Athlete award recipient, so what’s your secret to success?

A: Organization is key, but at the same time if you’re happy doing what you’re doing, you’re going to go the extra mile to put in the work to be successful. You have to try to find a good balance between athletics and academics; you can get burnt out quickly because the experience is overwhelming. The main thing is being able to stay happy. Being surrounded by the right people and the right community, that makes life a lot easier, too.

Q: What does the future hold for you?

A: I will be getting my master’s degree in a couple of weeks. I graduated last year with my bachelor’s in philosophy and am earning my master’s in business. It’s a pretty diverse academic background and gives me a lot of career options, but like most college players, I’m going to give it a go playing on tour. It will be interesting to see what level I can get to when tennis is my sole focus.

Do you have a student-athlete you’d like to see featured in an upcoming Thursday's Conversation? Contact Dan Johnson at djohnson@TheMW.com