Ohio State men’s tennis player Ralf Steinbach has been athletically gifted since he was 4 years old — at least that’s what his parents said.
The current redshirt-sophomore from Halle, Germany, could swim, bike, ice skate, ski and even do cartwheels before he was old enough to go to school. When he was 12, Steinbach began expressing to his parents that he wanted to become a professional tennis player.
“His ambitions showed that this … was actually possible for him,” Steinbach’s father — Ralf Steinbach Sr. — said in an email.
While Ralf Steinbach has found success as a collegiate tennis player, he’s not the lone high-level athlete in his family. He is the youngest of five children, and his older sister, Lydia, is a professional tennis player.
His sister Kristin said in an email that their parents were quite the athletic couple. Ralf Sr. played for the national water polo team in Germany, while Silvia Steinbach was a figure skater.
“It … has been really helpful for us kids to have parents who experienced the life of professional sports themselves,” she said.
While Ralf Steinbach has already been named second team All-Big Ten with just one season of play under his belt, being a college student wasn’t always at the top of his list.
“I tried to go out there (and) become a pro player,” he said. “That’s not as easy as people think.
“I finished high school and played tennis for a little while and I took too long to decide that I wanted to come here,” he said. “The NCAA has certain rules and I broke one of them.”
While he competed in tournaments back in Germany, he was visited various places in pursuit of his tennis dreams.
“I traveled the world,” Steinbach said. “I was in South Africa, I was in Morocco … I’m thankful for tennis.”
His parents, Ralf Steinbach Sr. and Silvia Steinbach, wished that they could have done more to financially assist him in his travels, they said in an email.
“It has been kind of unsatisfying because we could not provide the necessary money … to pay for a lot of trips to tournaments,” they said.
Even though Steinbach isn’t traveling the world playing professional tennis, attending OSU wasn’t a bad choice either. In his parents’ opinion, going to OSU to play tennis and to study was the best decision he made.
“We are proud to see Ralf doing so well and working so consistently,” they said.
Kristin Steinbach said her brother’s decision to go to school in the United States was a good choice, despite Columbus being about a 13-hour flight from Halle.
“It was a good decision for Ralf to go to OSU, even though we all miss him here in Germany,” she said.
Ralf Steinbach said his choice to move abroad and play collegialety stemmed from wanting to become the best player he can.
“I just want to get as good as I can and improve as much as I can,” he said. “That’s the reason I went to college and play college tennis … I want to get education and a second chance if it doesn’t work out with tennis.”
He said he’s still unsure of what is going to take precedence in his life after college, tennis or a pursuit in the psychology field.
Ralf Steinbach described the men’s tennis program at OSU as being great, starting with the coaching staff.
“The coaches care a lot and they want each of us to get better,” he said. “They care about us being a team.”
Before the season started, the Buckeyes took a trip to Florida to spend some bonding time, which included deep sea fishing.
“The first time I talked to (coach) Ty Tucker, I knew he cared a lot,” Ralf Steinbach said. “He’s a coach that can make me better. He works us hard.”
Ralf Steinbach decided to attend OSU after he saw the discipline and determination the promising tennis team had to offer.
He crossed off visiting New York earlier this season when he and his doubles partner, redshirt-senior Kevin Metka, competed in the USTA/ITA National Indoor Championship. The two ended up winning the doubles consolation draw.
“You play a tournament with the best 32 teams in the country. It’s a good feeling to know that you belong there,” Ralf Steinbach said.
Metka said Ralf Steinbach complements him well on the court.
“My returns can sometimes be shaky and he’s always solid in returning serves,” he said.
Ralf Steinbach said he considers winning national indoors one of his greatest accomplishments.
“I was the lucky one who won the fourth point and clinched the match,” he said. “That was an amazing experience. Winning the back draft for the national indoors and doubles this past fall was great too.”
While Ralf Steinbach has played hundreds of matches throughout his life, he said he thinks of every match as a new challenge because no two strokes are ever the same. He added that it’s such an individualized sport that “nothing else can compare to it.”
Now that he’s focused on the new season, Ralf Steinbach wants to win the conference, the Big Ten Tournament and help the Buckeyes continue their 198-match home winning streak, dating back to 2003. He also wants the team to win the national indoors like it had the year before.
“No one and nothing else matters except what you do for yourself,” he said.
Being considered the underdog, not the favorite, makes a difference to Ralf Steinbach, as he said he would rather not be pegged as the favorite.
“If I’m the favorite, I always think of what people expect from me,” he said. “I like to be the underdog — to just go out there and compete as hard as I can and not have to worry about what happens in the end.”
While he’s still undecided about his future, he said he believes tennis is a good preparation for his life.
“Tennis is a sport where you need a lot of discipline, you have to be competitive … You can never give up,” he said. “If you’re able to learn this through tennis, I think it will help you with what you want to do after.”