UW Oshkosh women’s tennis head coach Robert Henshaw is currently in his third year coaching for the Titans. With over 20 years of coaching under his belt, Henshaw says he hopes to take the Titans to new heights.
Henshaw has been playing tennis since he was a kid. Growing up near the Oshkosh area, tennis has been an integral part of the coach’s life.
“We [Henshaw and his older sister] grew up right across the street from the tennis courts,” Henshaw said. “So at about 4 years old, before I even knew how to speak, I had a tennis racquet in my hand and I was playing tennis. I grew up in a community where tennis was the big sport. I learned at a pretty young age that I was pretty good and sometimes that’s all it takes. I just really worked hard at it.”
That hard work paid off throughout Henshaw’s career. In high school, Henshaw competed for the Neenah Rockets.
While there, Henshaw won a Doubles State Championship in 1996. He then attended UW-Eau Claire in 1997 and was named Newcomer of the Year along with Doubles Most Valuable Player.
Tennis is unique when compared to other popular sports, and Henshaw said there are certain areas of the game that he enjoys the most.
“I like the one-on-one nature of it,” Henshaw said. “I like that officials and referees really play no part in a match for the most part, it’s just ‘me versus you.’ I like the problem solving aspect of it, figuring out a way to win, hopefully being pushed both physically and mentally to a place that I personally haven’t been previously.”
Henshaw lays claim to a 5.0 player rating and was ranked in the top five of men’s singles players in Wisconsin at the end of 2015. But doubles and singles success don’t necessarily go hand in hand.
As with any sport, some people are naturally better at some aspects than others. Henshaw said there are differences between singles and doubles, including varying strategies that go into each of them.
“To a certain extent, they’re almost different sports,” Henshaw said. “You have to be very patient in singles and wait for your opportunity. In doubles you have to take the opportunity. So doubles is generally a much more aggressive style of play. The other aspect that’s different really is just being able to have a teammate next to you to help problem solve and look for weaknesses in your opponents. Whereas in singles you have to do all the work for yourself. Most often people are exceptional at one and building on the other. It’s rare to get that person who’s just tremendous at both.”
Henshaw has used that mentality when coaching, and it has paid off for many players. UWO senior Bailey Sagen has taken note of her personal progress thanks to Henshaw.
“Along with different tactics of play and helping improve my skill, he has helped me with my game mentality, more specifically in singles,” Sagen said. “I was the farthest thing from a singles player when I started my college career, and in the past three years, I love it more than ever.”
Henshaw has been coaching tennis since ninth grade and has a true passion for it. He has a certified tennis teaching professional license from the United States Professional Tennis Association and has taught multiple age groups.
Coaching and playing have always been a part of Henshaw’s life, and he said as with playing the game, coaching has certain positive aspects to it as well.
“I feel as though I really don’t work,” Henshaw said. “I’ve been lucky enough to work hard enough in tennis so that I can turn it into a profession for myself. I just feel lucky every day. Everybody has bits and pieces of their job they don’t like, but every single day I get to step out on the tennis court and I’m not working. I’m just helping develop young people and work on their games.”
That passion really shows through to the players as well. Sophomore Samantha Koppa said Henshaw has helped out her singles game immensely since she’s become a Titan.
“Before entering college, I had never played a singles match in my life, and now I have a very successful record playing it,” Koppa said. “[Henshaw] has helped me by teaching me different plays that can be executed and how to be mentally tough during my matches.”
Before his time at Oshkosh, Henshaw was the men’s head coach at Ripon College in 2010, and the men’s and women’s head coach for Kimberly High School from 2009-2011.
Henshaw then moved his coaching career to Oshkosh at the YMCA Tennis Center in 2013.
At the YMCA, Henshaw was the program director as well as the head tennis teaching professional. In 2015, Henshaw was selected to be the interim head coach for the Titans and was awarded the full position in 2016.
Having grown up around Oshkosh, Henshaw had his eyes on UWO for a while. He said there were constants that consistently drove him to want to eventually coach at UWO, including the aspects of the University that stand out among its competitors.
“I feel as though UW Oshkosh is really a hidden giant,” Henshaw said. “There have been some very exceptional and great players both on the men’s and women’s side in the past who played for UWO. I like being a part of the development of tennis in Northeastern Wisconsin. I continue to get impressed with the University as a whole, and what it offers its students. I feel like the quality of player that I get is tremendous. I couldn’t really ask for anything more.”