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Freedoms Coach Lives to Serve
What he did for love has netted Philly’s Josh Cohen a star-studded career — and a spot in the Philadelphia Jewish Sports Hall of Fame (Class of 2013).
The toddler who could barely lift a racquet at age 2 1/2 is raising one now — as the 29-year-old head coach of the Philadelphia Freedoms of the Mylan World Team Tennis league.
As he awaits his team’s homecoming match against the San Diego Aviators on July 15 at Villanova University’s Pavilion, Cohen, the Freedoms' coach since 2012, reflects on his accomplishments.
In a way, tennis has been a perfect match for Cohen, who, while a student at the University of Miami, was the focus of a Sports Illustrated story on young tennis titans.
Tennis always took center court at his own Philadelphia home: His Dad, Dr. Richard Cohen, a psychiatrist, was ranked as one of the top five tennis players in the country as a student at the Haverford School. From 1963 to ’65, he was considered the No. 1 junior tennis player in Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey. Richard Cohen also netted high grades — on and off the court — at the University of Pennsylvania, playing for the varsity team.
His proud son says his dad was so good that he was inducted into the Philadelphia Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 2012, a year before Cohen's own induction — at that time the youngest honoree to be selected.
The family that plays together has fame together: Josh’s sister, Julia, 25, is a highly ranked player in the Women’s Tennis Association, eschewing college after some time spent at the University of Florida for the pro circuit. And Mom? Nancy Cohen is somewhat of an ace herself. She and Julia teamed six years ago to capture the national grass court title for mothers and daughters.
Is it possible for the Cohens to get together at home for a game of tennis without grunting and screaming over close calls and missed serves?
Of course, Josh Cohen says. “It is relaxing."
Cohen says being part of such a closely-knit Jewish family, free of pressure but encouraged to give life his best shot, has given him the freedom to grow at the game. And tennis “has always been the right fit for me.”
He has proved to be without match. High school certainly was a highlight, competing undefeated throughout his time at Main Line’s Episcopal Academy. Then there was being named All-American, All-Big East — just about all-everything at Miami, where he earned a degree in finance.
After Miami, Cohen joined up with the Mylan World Team Tennis league's Delaware Smash before going on to play for the Freedoms and ultimately becoming head coach here.
As far as top draws are concerned, the league has seen the involvement of such standouts as Venus Williams, John McEnroe, Andy Roddick and the court queen herself, Billie Jean King, who owns the Freedoms — she is also a major investor in the WTT — and hired Cohen as coach.
(The Freedoms’ roots extend to the league’s beginning: King was a player for the Freedoms during the WTT’s first season in 1974. She was the inspiration for “Philadelphia Freedom,” penned by her buddy, Elton John. The Freedoms then merged with the Boston Lobsters in 1975 and left Philadelphia to seek their shellfish elsewhere. The current local team, now in its 15th season, was formed by King in 2001.)
In addition to Cohen's job with the Freedoms, he is the head tennis pro at the Green Valley County Club, where he finds himself “going to a lot of Bar Mitzvahs,” he jokes.
“My heritage has always been important to me,” Cohen said, so he was thrilled when he found out that he'd been appointed to the local Jewish sports hall of fame.
"It was so exciting to get that news; it was very humbling.”
He also heads up Nike Tennis in Philly and co-directs the Chirico Tennis Academy in the area besides coaching potential stars.
Is there anything else he ever wanted to be? No, states Cohen.
“I love making my family proud of me, and I couldn’t be happier," he says. "Playing tennis is a privilege.”