NCAA tennis: Rola making name for himself
URBANA — When Blaz Rola next returns to his native Slovenia, the Ohio State junior isn’t counting on a hero’s welcome.
By now, Rola has come to realize that the NCAA singles title he earned Monday at Khan Outdoor Tennis Complex won’t impress his countrymen.
“I don’t think college tennis is as much appreciated (there),” he said. “I don’t think it’s known that much.”
That being the case, Rola just might have to become a name-dropper. Might have to mention that he now has something in common with Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe, among others. That should do the trick.
“I’m going to tell them the past champions that were in NCAAs,” the Ptuj, Slovenia, native said. “They’re probably going to get big eyes and they’re probably going to think differently.
“But hopefully they’ll realize this is a big thing and I did something special.”
With a 7-6(8), 6-4 win against third-ranked Jarmere Jenkins of Virginia, Rola became the fourth player in Big Ten history to capture an NCAA singles title and the first since Illinois’ Amer Delic in 2003.
Rola also is the first from Ohio State to turn the trick.
“It’s unbelievable, the past champions who have won this tournament,” the 12th-ranked Rola said. “For my name to be up there, it’s overwhelming. It’s unbelievable, and I’m really, really happy.”
By improving his season record to 32-1 — the lone loss coming against Big Ten Freshman of the Year Jared Hiltzik of Illinois — Rola prevented Jenkins from continuing his quest for an NCAA Triple Crown. The senior led the Cavaliers to the team title earlier in this tournament, and he had advanced to Monday’s finals in both singles and doubles.
Keeping Jenkins (42-6) from a date with history took all that Rola had, particularly in a first set decided by a tiebreaker that lasted 18 points. Up 6-2 in the tiebreak, Rola seemingly was poised to wrap up the set.
Then Jenkins stormed back to tie it at 6.
“I was thinking, ‘Oh, my God, I lost four set points. Come on,’ ” the Buckeyes junior said. “But I kept my mind relaxed and, thank God, I came through the first set. I think it was a crucial point in the match.”
When Rola captured the second set as well, he added an NCAA singles title to the doubles crown he won in 2012 with Buckeyes partner Chase Buchanan.
Rola intends to play in some pro tournaments this summer but retain his amateur status.
“I’m full of confidence right now,” he said. “We’ll see how I do in the pro tournaments, and my plan is to come back (to Ohio State). We’ll see how it goes.”
Cavaliers come through. Although Jenkins was denied a singles title, he ended the tournament with a doubles crown. With partner Mac Styslinger, the fourth-ranked Virginia tandem rallied to defeat the No. 41 Texas duo of Chris Camillone and David Holiner 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 in the final.