Freshman Nour Abbes making herself at home at Xavier-New Orleans

Xavier freshman Nour Abbes rarely celebrates her birthday.

Abbes doesn’t see the point if she can’t enjoy the moment with her family, so far away.

Tennis has taken her from a small clay court in Tunisia, located on the northern tip of Africa, to New Orleans, where at Xavier she is the highest-ranked ITA/NAIA singles player in school history.

The sport, full of time demands, has also stunted opportunities for her to make friends. Since age 9, tournaments and training dominated her childhood social calendar. And now, she’s separated from her three sisters and parents, far from routine for a Tunisian teenager, especially a young woman in her country’s conservative culture.

The Mediterranean Sea never seemed so distant.

“They weren’t OK with this at first,” Abbes said this week, nearly one season into her maiden school year in America. “They were like, ‘You’re not going all the way to America.’ Especially my mom. It was hard to let her go this time because she knew it would be for a very long time.

“But they understood why I wanted to leave, and they’ve been supportive every since.”

Separated by hemispheres, she communicates with her mother via e-mail, Facebook and Skype at least every two days.

“If I stay (away) more than that, she freaks out,” Abbes laughed.

Nour updates her mother with her travels abroad. Her first Mardi Gras parade. Samplings of Creole cuisine. Her studies, where she has yet to declare a major, but is considering biology. And of course, Xavier’s climb to the top of the NAIA Top 25 Poll, which on Tuesday placed the Gold Nuggets as the top-ranked squad.

XU is 15-6 this season, including Saturday’s 5-3 win against previous No. 1 Georgia Gwinnett.

Abbes, with her mixture of power and speed, is undefeated in singles (14-0), and ranked No. 2. She also teamed with sophomore Simone-Alyse Ewell in recent weeks for a doubles tandem entering the NAIA National Championships on May 13 in Mobile, Ala.

Xavier has a first-round bye.

“I’ve never played this long on hard courts,” she said. “I’m getting faster. My reactions are getting better. It’s been really good.”

Abbes arrived on campus by luck.

Two years ago, she realized she wanted to pursue college sports in America, with LSU as one of her top choices. But a snag in her NCAA eligibility made Xavier a better fit. After some Internet research, she liked what she saw about the school, about coach Alan Green’s tennis program, including his we-plan-to-win attitude.

Abbes has the same goal for Nationals.

“We plan to win,” she said.