Ohio State's Sydni Ratliff cherishes 'normal' upbringing on path to tennis stardom
Sydni Ratliff is a sophomore often playing No. 1 singles on a senior-laden Ohio State women’s tennis team as it prepares to play at Stanford in the NCAA Tournament round of 16 Friday.
That’s impressive enough without knowing that she’s advanced that far despite not devoting every waking moment to the sport.
Ratliff didn’t enroll in a specialized tennis academy or attend school virtually, as many top junior players do. The Gahanna native attended the academically challenging Columbus Academy. She played multiple sports as a kid. She spent only two hours twice a week practicing tennis.
In other words, she had a normal childhood, which isn’t so typical for a tennis player of her caliber.
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“That’s something we loved about her in the recruiting process,” OSU coach Melissa Schaub said. “Here’s a local kid that’s got so much raw talent and hasn’t been over-developed, hasn’t gone through the wringer of some of those tennis academies and left Ohio to do that. She went to regular school and did things in that way, which is a little bit different than a lot of the top-level junior kids that we recruit nowadays.”
Ratliff has no regrets. Her tennis might be further along if she’d focused solely on that, but she also might have burned out. She appreciates that her parents, Devon and Kiesha Ratliff, wanted her to be well-rounded.
“It was really important for me and my family to keep me as normal as possible and have a normal childhood and typical adolescent life,” Ratliff said. “I’m really grateful I didn’t leave and take the (tennis) academy route.”
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Ratliff was 12 years old when her mom introduced her to Schaub after an OSU match. That was the beginning of a close relationship between player and coach.
“It’s been really cool just to see her develop,” Schaub said.
Ratliff’s recruitment in 2020 was limited by COVID-19 restrictions. Among the schools that recruited her was Harvard. Not surprisingly, Ratliff is an OSU scholar-athlete.
Last year, she won 28 singles matches, the fourth-most for any OSU freshman. This year, she is 22-13 playing higher in the lineup, sharing the No. 1 singles spot with senior Irina Cantos Siemers. She is ranked 30th in the ITA singles rankings and 37th with Cantos Siemers in doubles.
“She has unbelievable speed, a very good backhand, a good serve,” Schaub said. “She just plays an all-around game. She’s comfortable coming forward. She gets herself out of trouble with her speed and her athleticism.”
Schaub and Ratliff believe that she’s still in the early stages of her tennis development. The NCAA Tournament will be a big proving ground, and she could be crucial if the 10th-seeded Buckeyes (22-7) are to beat No. 7 Stanford (23-2).
“Playing them at their place, you know it’s not going to be easy,” Schaub said. “But we feel we’re playing pretty good tennis right now coming off a good win against Vanderbilt on Saturday.
“At this point, you’re trying to give yourself one more day to play. We have five seniors on the court, so we’re pretty motivated to keep going, but it’s going to be tough.”
The No. 3 Ohio State men (31-2) will play at home against No. 15 Arizona (23-6) in the round of 16 at noon Saturday.
“This is what you play for – to be able to host a Super Regional,” men’s coach Ty Tucker said. “Only the top eight teams in the country get to host a Super Regional. This is why you practice all summer long. It’s easier to make the Elite Eight of the NCAAs if you get to host the round of 16.”
Tucker said that Arizona is battle-tested playing in the Pac-12 Conference.
“We have work to do because Arizona is a darn good team,” he said.