Some star collegiate athletes reach a fork in the road and have to make a pivotal decision.
For senior tennis phenom Mikael Torpegaard, that fork came in May.
Coming off a junior campaign that saw him go 38-5 in singles matches and 23-7 in doubles play, Torpegaard was faced with a life-altering decision. The 23-year-old could either stay in school for another year to further develop his skill set at Ohio State, or forgo his senior season and turn professional.
Knowing he still had improvements to make, Torpegaard opted to remain at Ohio State for a final go-round.
“Figuring out that I’m going to base out of Columbus playing professional tennis was the biggest deal for me,” Torpegaard said. “I also thought if I’m ready to go pro. In many aspects of my game, I felt, yes. I’ve proven a couple times that I can play with the best of the best. At the end of the day, I still feel like I have some things to work on. Once I’m done with this final year, I’m going to feel completely ready to go pro.”
A native of Denmark, Torpegaard began playing tennis when he was 8 years old.
In 2014, he arrived in Columbus, where his career would take off. Torpegaard was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year in his first campaign. He was a singles All-American in both 2016 and 2017, was named the 2016 Big Ten Player of the Year and has been a unanimous first-team All-Big Ten selection for the past two years.
Despite the collegiate success, Torpegaard understands the setup he has now at Ohio State is better than if he was on his own.
“I started thinking to myself, when I do go pro, where is it going to be from?” Torpegaard said. “It’s not going to be Denmark. The federation doesn’t really have any money to support and there’s no facilities or people to practice with. The setup I have now is very close to being the optimal setup for my pro career.”
Before Torpegaard could decide his future as a pro, he had to weigh his options.
Covering everything from his financial needs to his professional schedule, Torpegaard went over all the possibilities with Ohio State head coach Ty Tucker. A former tennis player himself, Tucker was a two-time All-American at Ohio State and turned pro in 1992.
If Torpegaard had an early start to his professional career, he might have never realized his potential in tennis.
“I mainly discussed it with Ty,” Torpegaard said. “I felt there were so many ways I can still improve. The main thing that kept me here was that knowing when I’m going on the tour, I’m not getting as better. Here, I practice four or five hours a day out of my own time. If I play a new tournament every week, I’m going to play a match every day and I’m not going to practice. I won’t have a coach there to tell me what I’m doing right or wrong.”
While Torpegaard had obvious concerns about on-the-court setbacks, the other half of the decision-making process was leaving college with his degree.
He wanted an education to fall back on, and for good reason. According to Tucker, many who leave school prematurely for a professional tennis career burn out quickly and are worse off in the long run.
“Professional tennis is so tough to make,” Tucker said. “You’re almost best to leave with your degree. We’ve had a couple players leave without their degrees and turn pro a little bit early. It’s a tough transition to the professional game. We just showed him the guys that left early and where they’re at right now.”
Few Buckeye tennis players in program history have enjoyed the career Torpegaard has.
But there is one thing Torpegaard and the team are striving for, and it’s something he expects to capture in his last year at Ohio State.
“I’m expecting to win a title,” Torpegaard said. “If I wasn’t expecting to win a title, it’d be tough to be here for my last year. I’m expecting the team, if everyone plays up to their level, to be able to win a national title.”