Ohio State established itself as a national power in men’s tennis despite the disadvantage of its location and climate.
The Midwestern weather in the spring is volatile, and the Buckeyes are often confined to playing indoors. This year, coach Ty Tucker said, the Buckeyes haven’t played an outdoors match in temperatures above 70 degrees.
That is likely to be an issue today in Athens, Georgia, against Oklahoma in the NCAA round of 16, and if Ohio State advances, for the rest of the championships. The temperatures are expected to hover around 90 degrees in Georgia for the next few days.
“The competition gets a little tougher and the weather gets a little more frightful,” Tucker said.
There’s only so much the Buckeyes can do to prepare other than ensuring proper hydration.
“We’ve sucked down Pedialyte and water and Gatorade, and done everything you can,” Tucker said.
On paper, the third-seeded Buckeyes (31-3) would seem to be clear favorites against No. 14 Oklahoma (17-10), especially since they’ve beaten the Sooners twice this year by 4-0 scores, including in the national indoor championships. But that’s a bit misleading. Oklahoma’s top player, Australian senior Andrew Harris, has missed most of the season, including the second OSU match in Columbus, because of an injury.
Harris is back.
“He was supposed to be the best player in college tennis the past year and a half,” Tucker said.
Tucker expects Oklahoma to use Harris at No. 2 singles, where he’d face Ohio State’s JJ Wolf, the Big Ten Freshman of the Year.
Harris is one of four seniors who’ve helped Oklahoma reach the NCAA finals the past three years. That experience concerns Tucker. The core of this Oklahoma team ended Ohio State’s 200-match home winning streak in 2015.
A winning formula begins, as always for Tucker, with winning the doubles point. The Buckeyes might have an edge at No. 5 singles with Herkko Pollanen and No. 6 with Kyle Seelig.
At No. 1 singles, Mikael Torpegaard, an NCAA finalist last season, is 34-3 and No. 3 Hugo Di Feo is 30-4.
“It’s a 50-50 match,” Tucker said. “They’re one of the 12 or 13 teams that I thought could go to the final four. Nobody’s easy and the scoring system is tough.”
In college tennis, there are no deuces — the first to win four points takes the game — so matches can shift quickly. No-ad scoring shortens matches, which might benefit a team not used to playing in hot weather.
“When we start to melt, it’s tough,” Tucker said only half-jokingly. “We’re playing an opponent that’s used to this.”
The winner will play the winner of the Texas Christian-Illinois match in the quarterfinals Saturday. The semifinals are Monday and finals Tuesday.
The Ohio State women’s team, also seeded third, will play South Carolina on Friday in the round of 16.