OSU's Tucker warms to being NCAA host

Joey Kaufman

When Ohio State plays Columbia in the round of 16 of the NCAA men's tennis tournament Saturday afternoon, the match will take place on outdoor courts on the northwest edge of campus.

It’s an inviting setting for the top-seeded Buckeyes. They’ve never lost at home in the postseason, winning all 28 matches. But a chance to take serve at home at this stage of the tournament remains rare.

For the first time, the NCAA set the round of 16 matches at eight campus locations rather than at the championship site. Teams must win an additional game, advancing to the quarterfinals, before moving to the USTA National Campus in Orlando, Florida, for the remaining rounds.

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Ohio State coach Ty Tucker at first held reservations about the format.

“Obviously, I don’t do well with change,” said Tucker, whose tenure has stretched two decades. “In the beginning, you’re kind of a little bit upset because it is kind of unique how the final 16 go to the final site. After doing that for all these years, it’s a nice thing for the student-athletes to be recognized.”

This week, Tucker warmed up to the idea. After all, the Buckeyes, as one of the top seeds, don’t have to hit the road to another campus.

“I guess I like it a lot more,” Tucker said.

Ohio State has enjoyed a significant home-court advantage beyond the postseason. Since 2003, including the regular season, the team has won 279 of 280 home matches, including 79 in a row.

“I just think we get good crowd support, we get used to the court,” Tucker said. “When the ball bounces all the time like it does in tennis, you go to different places, some courts are 50 percent slower, some are 50 percent faster, it’s what you’re used to.”

The Buckeyes (31-2) opened the tournament last weekend with victories over Cleveland State and Vanderbilt, winning both 4-0. They have not lost this season since dropping consecutive matches to Texas and Texas A&M in March.

Though Columbia (19-3) is seeded 16th, the Ivy League champions have fared well against top competition. At the ITA national team indoor championship in Chicago in February, the Lions opened with a loss to Wake Forest, then the top-ranked team in the nation, before topping Notre Dame and Baylor, who were ranked 11th and ninth.

If Ohio State advances past Columbia, it would face eighth-seeded Southern California or ninth-seeded North Carolina in the quarterfinals on Thursday.