While most Ohio State students have started hitting the books, freshman tennis player Francesca Di Lorenzo has been busy hitting the courts at the 135th edition of the U.S. Open.
The fourth leg of the Grand Slam, which began on Aug. 31 in New York City and concluded on Sunday, featured more than 300 of the best tennis players in the world.
Di Lorenzo, who was ranked as the No. 1 recruit in the class of 2015 by the Tennis Recruiting Network, advanced all the way to the semi-finals of both the U.S. Open Junior girls’ singles and doubles draws.
Di Lorenzo said the experience was one of the highlights of her career so far.
“It was one of the best weeks I’ve had in terms of tennis,” she said. “The atmosphere there in New York was just unbelievable. The fans, everyone supporting you, you’re in the U.S. as a U.S. player. It doesn’t get better than that.”
Surrounded by famed tennis stars like Serena and Venus Williams, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, Di Lorenzo got a taste of life with the pros.
“It was interesting to be with the pros. You got to eat in the same restaurants as them and be right by the locker room with them,” she said. “It’s nice to see the level that you want to get to.”
The New Albany, Ohio, native was unseeded in the singles draw but was ranked fifth in doubles alongside partner Luisa Stefani of Brazil. Despite what the rankings might have depicted, Di Lorenzo said it is competing in singles that she enjoys most.
“I enjoy doubles and having a partner out there, but I like being out there competing on my own,” she said. “If I win, it’s on me. If I lose, it’s on me.”
Throughout the singles draw, Di Lorenzo faced off against two players ranked in the top five in the world. She defeated Slovakia’s Tereza Mihalikova, the No. 4 seed, in the third round of the tournament. She later fell to the No. 2-ranked, and eventual single’s champion, Dalma Galfi of Hungary, in the semi-finals.
Di Lorenzo said her mindset does not change regardless of where her opponent is ranked.
“I don’t like looking at the rankings as much as focusing on what I have to do to be successful in the match,” she said. “I knew that whatever match I was playing that the girl was going to come out playing her best and competing hard, and I would have to do the same.”
However, she admits that taking out a high-ranked player adds more excitement to a win.
“(Mihalikova) was the Australian Open junior champion, so that was cool to be able to beat a girl that has had so much success,” the freshman said. “That gives you a lot of confidence going into your next matches.”
Di Lorenzo and her doubles partner Stefani met through their siblings who both play tennis at Xavier University. The pair had recently won doubles championships in Brazil and Belgium.
They took out the No. 4-ranked pair of Russians, Anna Blinkova and Olesya Pervushina, in the quarterfinals before having their run end in the semi-finals against the eventual champions, Slovakia’s Viktoria Kuzmova and Russia’s Aleksandra Pospelova.
Having only been on campus for two weeks before the tournament began, Di Lorenzo is now adjusting to life at OSU.
“It’s tough, I’m not going to lie,” she said. “It’s much harder than you think to try and keep up with the academics and tennis. I just missed the last week, so hopefully I can catch up. Luckily we have amazing tutors and help.”
The transition is eased by growing up in the Columbus area and a familiarity with campus and her coaches, both of which played a role in her choice to attend OSU.
“I go to a lot of games. I love the big school atmosphere and most importantly the coaches. They’ve all really helped me become the player I am,” she said.
Women’s tennis coach Melissa Schaub said she is proud to have a highly rated prospect on the roster.
“It means a lot. Not only is she a one recruit, but she’s an Ohio kid and from Columbus. It’s huge for us at Ohio State to keep someone home like that,” she said. “I think we’ve been able to get ourselves to a level where we are able to get someone like her. It means a lot for the future of the program and for right now.”
While new to OSU, Di Lorenzo said she is already comfortable with her new teammates.
“I’d come here for the clinics when I was younger, and I’d meet the girls,” she said. “They’re great girls. I just love being with the team.”
The team atmosphere is what Schaub said she sees as one of roster’s strengths.
“Team chemistry is really strong. They’re definitely very tight-knit. I think this year with the addition of Francesca, there’s really good competition amongst the team. I think that’s good,” she said.
As the season gets under way, Di Lorenzo already has some goals in mind.
“I’d love to be the Big Ten freshman of the year and hopefully make the NCAA individual tournaments,” she said. “I’d love to go a round of 16, at least, for the team championship. That’d be cool.”
Schaub views Di Lorenzo’s determination as one of her best qualities.
“I think that’s the greatest thing about Francesca, she was a No. 1 recruit in the country, but there’s also things that she can get better at,” she said. “Her goals are beyond college, and no one is willing to work harder than she is. It’s pretty exciting.”
Di Lorenzo and the women’s tennis team are scheduled to kick off their 2015 season in tournaments in Waco, Texas, and Miami from Sept. 18-20.