Mark Batke / Lantern reporter
For a pair of freshmen on the Ohio State men’s tennis team, the transition to life away from home has been more of an adjustment than for many of their classmates. But most of their peers are not separated from their homes by the Atlantic Ocean.
Constantin Christ and Ralf Steinbach have joined the OSU men’s tennis squad this year from Eppstein, Germany, and Halle, Germany, respectively, bringing the total number of international players on the team’s 11-man roster to four.
In the case of both Christ (10-2) and Steinbach, the journey to Columbus began after their dreams of playing tennis professionally in Europe fell short.
“After I graduated high school, I wanted to go pro, and I tried it for a year, but it was so tough,” Steinbach said. “You have to pay so much money for it, and it’s really intense, and it didn’t work out. So I thought about a solution to improve my tennis and still get educated,” he said. It did not take long for OSU coach Ty Tucker to step in with a solution.
Tucker said junior European tennis players are surveyed under a world ranking system that allows recruiters to “focus on the best players you can find.”
When Tucker discovered Christ and Steinbach, he wasted no time to bring them to the Buckeye state.
“(Tucker went to) an ITF (International Tennis Federation) tournament that I played, and we met together there and spoke about college tennis in general and if I can go to OSU. I visited OSU, and this was my only visit. I liked it from the first time I saw (it),” Christ said.
Tucker said collegiate sports in Europe are not nearly as competitive as they are in America, leading many European players to opt out of a college education. When American college coaches see unused European talent, they attempt to bring over players to contribute to their college teams.
“College tennis is the true minor leagues of professional tennis,” Tucker said. Before a formal offer is made to international players, Tucker ensures they mesh well with the rest of the team.
Tucker said he’s usually able to tell after bringing international players to OSU for a two-day visit whether they have chemistry with the rest of the group.
“Everybody on the team was pretty friendly to me, and I could have a ride from my apartment (to practice) every time. The practice was really nice … because everybody wants to practice,” Christ said.
Christ and Steinbach are not the only players to have joined the roster from another country. Junior Blaz Rola, who is 3-0 in singles play and 2-0 in doubles play, was born and raised in Ptuj, Slovenia, and junior Ille Van Engelen (8-1) is from Eindhoven, Netherlands. Tucker also persuaded Rola to come to Columbus after struggling to succeed in his country’s professional level. “Ty was so persuasive, he was calling me for a year straight … He said you can come (to OSU) and see how it is, and I won’t bother you anymore,” Rola said. “From the first day I got here with my mom, we were so thrilled and there wasn’t even a thought of not going (to OSU).”
Rola, Christ and Steinbach all said their families have been supportive of their move to the U.S.
“(My family) was just thrilled,” Rola said. “We’re not used to college sports like (OSU has) in Europe.”
Even with support from family and new teammates and coaches, international players on the OSU men’s tennis team admit to having to adjust to American culture. “(America) is a lot more intense. It’s a lot more fast. Everything goes by quickly. I think especially in my country, people are more relaxed – they take time to sit down and enjoy food,” Rola said.
“Everyone is asking me if I feel homesick, but you never actually thought about home because everything is going so quick.”
Christ said he is still learning to balance his time since coming to OSU.
“It’s a lot to combine studying and playing tennis at the same time. It’s difficult and a little bit stressful sometimes,” Christ said.
But Steinbach said traveling overseas to attend OSU is worth the risk.
“College is probably the best solution you can find in the world … you can practice like a pro and get a good education, so it’s the best,” Steinbach said.
Men’s tennis next takes on Georgia Sunday at noon at the Varsity Indoor Tennis Center.