A Buckeyes first
Rola becomes first individual singles champion for Ohio State
URBANA, Ill. -- For the first time in NCAA singles history, an Ohio State Buckeye was crowned the national champion.
The future is bright for junior Blaz Rola, who claimed the 2013 title after defeating Virginia’s Jarmere Jenkins 7-6(8), 6-4 in a controversial match.
On the last serve point, with the second set reading 5-3 and 40-30 in Rola’s favor, he served an ace which Jenkins claimed was out of bounds. The officials missed the call, crowning Rola as the champion.
“I couldn’t see [where the ball landed], but [Jenkins] showed the mark and if that’s the mark then, unfortunately, the ball was out,” Rola said. “That’s tennis. I feel sorry for him, but there is nothing we can do.”
“[The ball] was definitely out.” Jenkins said. “It made a mark on the sideline. I got to it as soon as [Rola] hit the ball and I went over to it, but the umpire told me he couldn’t do anything about it.
“It’s a tough way to go out, but congrats to Blaz [Rola], he’s a really tough competitor.”
Jenkins was favored to win the Triple Crown with a team, singles and doubles championship, but Rola fought him point-for-point and claimed a dark-horse victory in the singles championship.
“[The match] was tough. The conditions were humid, it was very hot. The first set lasted over an hour and I think it took a toll on both of us,” Rola said. “I’m really happy and relaxed that I won in straight sets, it would’ve been tough to play three.”
Rola didn’t know much about his opponent until the morning of the tournament. While fully aware that Virginia had won the team title, he didn’t realize how invested Jenkins was at this year’s tournament.
“I looked him up [Monday] morning and saw that he was in the finals in doubles, too. I didn’t know that [before] and I thought, ‘Oh, he might go for a triple crown,’ and I am really happy I took that away from him,” Rola said.
“I think [in the match] he had a lack of concentration, and I took advantage of that.”
Rola had lost in singles in the previous two tournaments, notably falling to Kentucky’s Eric Quigley in the semifinals at the 2012 tournament. In his third season at Ohio State, Rola worked even harder to push himself beyond the tough competitors.
“The coaches put so much work into me and we spent so much time on the court, off the court, going through my game, going through my shots. I think they deserve a lot more credit than I am getting right now. They should be standing here,” Rola said. “My parents for sure [will be proud]. They are watching the live streaming.”
Rola’s parents were not able to attend the match since they live in Slovenia. Rola’s decision to move to the United States was easy; tennis is simply not a top sport in the country.
“I don’t think college tennis is as appreciated. I don’t think it’s known as much,” he said.
“I am proud to be from the small country of Slovenia, I wouldn’t change that. I knew what Jenkins had in mind going into this final, and I bet there was some more pressure on him than me. Winning this title was enough for me.”
For Rola, the victory marks the second NCAA championship he has won. In 2012, he and then-partner Chase Buchanan won the first doubles title for the Buckeyes. Coming back to win a singles title only pumps Rola up for the future.
“It’s unbelievable. The past champions who have won this tournament, John McEnroe, the Bryan brothers, for my name to be up there, it’s just overwhelming. It’s unbelievable and I’m really happy," Rola said.
Even though the college season has ended, Rola still has some work to do. He will participate in several pro tournaments to see if he can pick up professional sponsors.
Unfortunately, Rola does not earn an automatic win to the U.S. Open because he is not an American citizen. But with two history-making NCAA titles under his belt, that hardly dampens his spirit.
“I am full of confidence right now. I will go back to Columbus, get my stuff in order and play [in] some pro tournaments and see what the future brings.”