Men's tennis: Buckeyes, Kobelt have NCAA title shot again

By The Columbus Dispatch  • 
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Competitors remember the failures, Peter Kobelt said, more than the triumphs.

A year ago in Champaign, Ill., Kobelt had Ohio State’s fate in the NCAA men’s tennis team quarterfinals on his racket. With the Buckeyes’ match against four-time defending champion Southern California tied, Kobelt provided the clincher with a 7-6, 7-6 victory.

Kobelt was in the same situation in the semifinals against UCLA. The result was not the same.

Facing match point, Kobelt’s second serve deflected off the frame of his racket, ending Ohio State’s dream of a national championship.

“I’m a competitor, and competitors only remember the things that go wrong,” said Kobelt, a just-graduated senior. “I still have nightmares about it, but you have to move on and learn from it.

“I thought that team had a chance to win the national title, and that’s what hurt the most.”

Ohio State (32-3) is back in the round of 16 of the NCAA tournament this weekend, and once again Kobelt will be pivotal to the third-seeded Buckeyes’ hopes. He will play No. 1 singles and doubles, and then will take his 135-mph serve into the NCAA singles and doubles tournaments next week as a bona fide contender in both brackets. He will team with Worthington Kilbourne grad Kevin Metka in doubles.

Today, Ohio State plays 14th-seeded Florida (17-9) in Athens, Ga. The Buckeyes defeated Florida 4-1 during their run to the ITA National Indoors championship in February. If the Buckeyes win, another crack at UCLA could await in the quarterfinals.

Kobelt already has secured his legacy as one of the top players in Ohio State history, coach Ty Tucker said. His combined 257 singles and doubles victories is second-most in program history. This week, Kobelt was named ITA Midwest player of the year.

Kobelt’s college career has not always gone smoothly. Tucker is a demanding coach, and he said none of his top players has endured his wrath as much as Kobelt.

Part of that is due to longtime familiarity. Kobelt grew up in New Albany — his father, Paul, is a respected tennis coach — and has known Tucker since he was a boy.

Kobelt, who is nearly 6 feet 7, grew up loving basketball, with tennis as a secondary sport. Tucker has used every motivation tool possible to get Kobelt to tap into his vast potential.

“He’s still green,” Tucker said. “Most guys leave college and they have 10 to 15 percent room to grow, best-case scenario. I really believe he’s only at 60 to 65 percent (of his potential).”

Kobelt understands why Tucker has been so tough on him. Better endure and grow from that than be written off and ignored, he said.

“It definitely wasn’t the easiest journey, by any means,” Kobelt said, “but it’s a dream looking back seeing that I accomplished a lot, thanks to Ty and (assistant) Justin (Kronauge).

“I’ve done more in tennis than I ever imagined or probably anyone imagined. They believed in me more than anyone. If that means they’ve got to scream and yell at me all day, so be it.

“As the years have gone along, we’ve become very close. He’ll call to ask what I think about this and that. We’ve become very good friends.”

Their relationship is at the point where Tucker can even joke about last year’s decisive double-fault.

“He hit that serve to Chicago,” he said.

Now Kobelt has a chance to write a better ending.

brabinowitz@dispatch.com

@brdispatch

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