Chris Scullin / Lantern photographer
One visit to Ohio State was enough to convince sophomore Blaz Rola to leave his professional tennis career behind in Ptuj, Slovenia, and move more than 4,660 miles to join the OSU men’s tennis team.
“I didn’t actually want to go to college,” Rola said. “But when I came here with my mom, we loved it from the first day.”
Two years ago, Rola was busy winning singles and doubles titles on the professional circuit in Slovenia and competing in tournaments all around the world.
Rola, a second-year in international business, now spends most of his time at the Varsity Indoor Tennis Center on Henderson Road.
“My family never really thought I was going to go to college in America or play professionally,” he said.
Rola began playing tennis when he was 7 years old. By the time he was 19, he had won the La Vie Sport Junior Cup Villach Championship in Austria and was ranked as high as No. 388 in the world.
One year at the professional level and 18 months of recruitment emails from OSU men’s tennis coach, Ty Tucker, recruited Rola to Columbus.
“I found him in Essen, Germany, at the German Junior Open a few years back,” Tucker said. “I just stayed on top of him and kept talking to him. We got him here for a visit and he liked what he saw and thought he could keep developing.”
Rola did develop — into the eighth-ranked college singles player in the nation.
Rola said the transition was difficult, but living with two senior tennis players made it easier.
“After a couple of weeks, it just felt like home and felt like all of those guys are my brothers,” he said.
The most challenging part of the transition has not been missing his family or long flights home — it has been adjusting to courts made of concrete as opposed to the clay courts he grew accustomed to in Slovenia, Rola said.
In his first year, Rola made the OSU tennis record books. He holds the ninth-place record for most singles wins in a season with 41 and the 10th-place record for most doubles wins in a season (34). His 41 singles wins in a season are ninth most all-time, while his 34 doubles wins in a season are 10th most.
Rola opened Big Ten play in his sophomore season Sunday with a 6-2, 6-2 victory against Michigan State’s junior Denis Bogatov.
His doubles success began when he met teammate and partner, senior Chase Buchanan.
“He just came and worked hard from the very first day and it didn’t take a lot to get him going,” said Buchanan. “He was self-motivated and a great friend to all of us.”
The duo made collegiate tennis history when they became only the sixth pair to win USTA/ITA All-American and National Indoors Doubles titles in the same year.
Buchanan and Rola defeated No.1- and No.3-seeded athletes in both championship matches and went 16-7 on the 2010-2011 season.
Big Ten Athlete of the Week honors have been bestowed on Rola four times in his career with OSU. He has shared the award with Buchanan, who received the honor Tuesday, twice already this season.
They carried their success into Sunday’s Big Ten Opener, when the pair, ranked first in the nation, defeated Michigan State’s freshman Aaron Pfister and sophomore Drew Lied, 8-3, en route to the No. 3 Buckeyes’ 7-0 victory against the Spartans.
But Tucker said it is not just Rola’s accomplishments on the court that he respects.
“What do I like about him? Everything,” Tucker said. “Works hard, gets good grades, he’s a great guy.”
When Rola travels to Ptuj during school breaks, he visits with his family for a while and then it’s back to business.
“During summer I basically don’t go home because I want to play as much as I can,” he said. “I’ll hang out with my family for a little bit and then start playing tournaments.”
Rola said he plans to get his degree and continue his professional career overseas and he and Buchanan have talked about remaining partners.
“Oh man, we’d both love to play with each other after doubles on the pro tour,” Buchanan said. “He’s from Europe, I’m from the States, but if that works out, that’d be awesome.”
The Buckeyes head to Charlottesville, Va., Feb. 17-21 to compete with 15 other teams in the ITA National Indoor Championships. OSU won the ITA Kick-Off Weekend to earn their spot at the Championships.