A special bond on display even in defeat for JJ Wolf at the Western & Southern Open
A few days before making his fourth consecutive appearance in the Western & Southern Open, JJ Wolf told The Enquirer, "There's a lot of losing that goes on in tennis. There's nowhere to hide when you do."
Saturday evening in a first-round qualifying match against Marcos Giron, a former NCAA champion at UCLA who just made it to the second round at the Tokyo Olympics, Wolf lost 6-3, 6-3.
Before he took the court, Wolf, who's only a month removed from returning to tennis after more than eight months away due to injury, spoke about how he wanted to do well at his favorite tournament. The stands around whichever court he plays on in his hometown usually fill up with people he knows, a lot of whom share the same last name. That was the case again Saturday.
Grandstand, the second-largest court at the Lindner Family Tennis Center, was densely populated with people cheering for Wolf.
In attendance were aunts and uncles, cousins and friends, and, of course, Wolf's mom and dad and girlfriend were there.
"It's unrivaled," Wolf said after when asked about the level of support. "Coming home is the best feeling for me, having so much family and also friends in the stands. I can't even explain the feeling. Even on a day like today where I didn't feel my best. I was still having so much fun out there."
One of the people there for Wolf was his first practice partner from the time he first picked up a racket: his sister.
"I know I wouldn't be where I am now if it wasn't for her," said JJ.
Danielle sat in the front row along the baseline. She's almost exactly two years older than her brother.
They started playing tennis at the same time. Their dad, Jeff, who won the Cincinnati Met title six times, was a good player himself. So was their mom, Brooke, who played at Miami University.
"My mom, dad, JJ, and I would play mixed doubles," said Danielle.
There was one year, early on, that Danielle cherishes more than most.
"There was only like one year that I actually beat him down. It was the best year ever," she smiled.
Oddly enough, JJ remembered that year, too.
"That's right. When she grew and I hadn't grown yet, and she was just beating me down. It was the worst year of my life, for sure," JJ laughed.
On a more serious note, he said, "She's a great player. Also, my whole life she was my practice partner, and I was her practice partner.
"... She's very supportive. I can't thank her enough for that. But we're a very close-knit family and I feel like a lot of Cincinnati families will understand that."
Danielle and JJ both went to Cincinnati Country Day School. She went on to play at Ohio State. He followed her there. Today, Danielle works in tennis as the High-Performance Director at the Midtown Athletic Club in Chicago, so she still hits every day in case JJ needs a hitting partner or wants to renew their rivalry from those early days.
It's a family that shared the same passion and built a bond around it. That passion and the bond that follows it everywhere lives on today through JJ's professional career.
Danielle got a front-row seat for her brother's tennis ascent. She remembers when they were younger and they got to hit with Marcos Ondruska, a South African pro player, "and he was talking about JJ's racket-head speed. He was like it's incredible and I just thought it was natural.
"The way (JJ) could not play that much and still be competitive with the top guys that didn't even go to school or trained six hours a day. And he's playing with myself and my dad after my dad finishes work or after we're done playing other sports. It's kind of special because nobody does that. He's my brother and I'm biased, but he was always kind of a freak, he could do anything."
They also had the unique experience of making each other better, which is easy to appreciate. And they got to experience the unavoidable part of playing competitive tennis – losing. That's probably why they're as supportive as they are of each other.
"He helped me more than anyone will ever know," Danielle said. "It's surreal being able to have that, not a lot of people do."
For half of JJ's match Saturday, his big sister was right behind him, not more than 15 feet away. JJ may not have had his best tennis, but he had his best people with him, and they're much more difficult to lose than a tennis match.