Big-time players step up in big-time games. It’s an adage that can be traced to every imaginable competitive sport.
For the Ohio State men’s tennis team, ranked No. 3 in the nation by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association, senior Justin Kronauge and sophomore Chase Buchanan delivered at critical moments Sunday in OSU’s 5-2 victory over No. 9 Kentucky.
Kronauge, ranked 43rd in the country, won his No. 2 singles match 6-4, 6-3 to put OSU up 4-1, thereby clinching the victory for the Buckeyes. Buchanan, down 5-2 in the first set in his match against No. 8 Eric Quigley, rallied for a 7-5 first set victory and dominated the second set 6-2 to win at No. 1 singles.
“I just stepped my game up,” Buchanan said. “I was nervous at the beginning because my shots weren’t falling. I had to buckle down because it’s not good [for the team] if I go down.”
OSU’s win improved its record to 9-1 and extended its home-match winning streak to 96. Two crucial points defined the match for the Buckeyes.
At subsequent moments in their respective first sets, Buchanan went up 6-5 and Kronauge won 6-4, sending the crowd into a frenzy and putting the Wildcats on their heels.
“Justin’s probably my best friend, so we know each other really well,” Buchanan said. “Seeing him get pumped up is great, it helps the team to see the top two guys playing well.”
Coach Ty Tucker knows he doesn’t have to worry about his top two players playing to their highest capabilities.
“They’re good players. They spend 20 hours a week together,” Tucker said. “They like to mix it up and compete. You don’t have to worry about [Buchanan and Kronauge] coming to fight.”
The Buckeyes got off to a slow start, losing two of the three doubles matches to fall behind 1-0. The No. 2 doubles team of freshman Dino Marcan and junior Balazs Novak rallied from a 5-2 deficit to win 8-6 for OSU’s only doubles win.
“[Kentucky’s] No. 1 doubles team is capable of winning the national title,” Tucker said. “Doubles isn’t our strong suit, but hats off to them [for winning the point].”
Kentucky arrived in Columbus a confident bunch. The Wildcats had achieved their highest ranking in seven years and were coming off one of their biggest wins in school history, as they scored a 4-3 victory over then-No. 2 (and current No. 1) Virginia on Feb. 6, snapping the Cavaliers’ 63-match win streak.
However, there would be no Cinderella story Sunday as the Buckeyes flexed their muscles in the singles match after dropping the doubles point.
Junior Matt Allare evened the score at one by handily defeating Graeme Dyce 6-3, 6-4. Marcan, down 2-1 in both sets, won his No. 3 singles match against Brad Cox 6-4, 6-2.
Shortly after Buchanan and Kronauge won their matches, Novak captured his ninth singles win of the year by defeating Anthony Rossi 6-2, 6-4 for the Buckeyes’ fifth point.