Sound familiar? OSU path to national title goes through Georgia, this time in men's tennis

Bill Rabinowitz
The Columbus Dispatch
Ohio State men's tennis coach Ty Tucker

Ohio State men’s tennis coach Ty Tucker couldn’t help but notice the striking coincidence when he saw his team's quarterfinal bracket in the NCAA Tournament.

No. 3 Ohio State will play No. 6 Georgia on Thursday in Orlando, Florida. The winner will play the survivor of Michigan vs. TCU.

Ohio State's James Trotter

Those four teams comprised the College Football Playoff last season, a fact not lost on Tucker, a big football fan.

“It was interesting, wasn’t it?” Tucker said.

Tucker is close with Ryan Day. The Ohio State football coach is an avid fan of the tennis team and has been known to hit balls with the Buckeyes.

Like Day, Tucker has accomplished almost everything as a coach except win the biggest prize. Since taking over the program in 1999, Tucker has built the Buckeyes into a perennial national contender. They’ve won a national indoor title and have dominated the Big Ten.

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But an NCAA title has slipped through the Buckeyes’ grasp despite numerous close calls. This year, he believes his team has the talent, depth and experience to break through.

Five Buckeyes singles players – Cannon Kingsley, JJ Tracy, Justin Boulais, James Trotter and Alexander Bernard – rank in the top 41 nationally. Three of OSU's doubles teams rank in the top 21.

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But Georgia (23-6) is formidable. The Bulldogs have won six national titles, the last in 2008, and have reached the NCAA quarterfinals 27 times in the past 35 years. Ethan Quinn is ranked second nationally in singles.

“Well-coached, great players,” Tucker said of the Bulldogs. “The toughest league is the SEC, and they were the regular-season champions this year.”

The Buckeyes (32-2) were taken to the limit in the Super Regional at home Saturday against Arizona, prevailing 4-2 after 3½ hours when Kingsley and Tracy won tough three-set matches within seconds of each other.

Such slim margins are often the case at this stage of the NCAA Tournament.

“You’ve got to be able to stand tall in big moments and make things happen and not sit out there and hope that somebody loses to you,” Tucker said. “We’re in that tricky, tricky spot where you can’t afford to have a bad match or a bad 10 minutes, or you’re having chicken and rice at the banquet.”

The Buckeyes practiced Tuesday afternoon in the Florida heat. The forecast for Thursday calls for a high in the low 90s. At the 7:30 p.m. match time, it should cool to the low 80s.

“We spent a lot of time playing in 55-degree days through April and May in Columbus,” Tucker said. “Today, we’re out on the court and got 100 minutes in. It was 90 degrees and you feel it, for sure.”

Playing a talented Georgia team and coping with the heat will be difficult twin challenges, but the tennis team doesn’t have one disadvantage the OSU football did against the Bulldogs. The contest will be played farther than an hour from Georgia’s campus, as the Buckeye football team’s heartbreaking 42-41 Peach Bowl CFP loss was.

“At least we don’t have to play them in Atlanta,” Tucker said.