The game of tennis ranges all across the globe. No one country stands above the rest.
In fact, five different countries are represented in the top 12 of the Intercollegiate Tennis Association men’s singles rankings.
With the sport being prominent throughout the world, college rosters are littered with players from all over the globe. While the No. 1 Ohio State men’s tennis team is no different, with players on the roster from Croatia, Finland and Germany, what gives them a more “hometown” feel is how three of their starters grew up and played high school tennis in the greater Columbus area.
Redshirt-senior Peter Kobelt, redshirt-junior Kevin Metka and redshirt-sophomore Chris Diaz were all familiar with each other before becoming teammates at OSU. All three attended schools in the 614 area code, and their high school teams played one another throughout the season in what were described as friendly matches.
Kobelt became a Buckeye by way of New Albany High School, graduating in 2009. During his time there, he won a Division II state title in doubles (2007) and a Division I title in singles (2009) before being named an All-American and ranked in the top 60 in U.S. Seniors Standings.
Metka graduated from Worthington Kilbourne in 2010 and won the Division I state singles title that year, taking home the Division I doubles title the year before.
Graduating from Watterson in 2011, Diaz and was the most glorified of the three coming out of high school. After winning a state doubles title as a freshman with his brother Phillip in 2008, he went on to win two straight Division II singles titles in 2010 and 2011. Diaz didn’t lose a single match after his sophomore year en route to being named the No. 1 player in his class in the state of Ohio. His last loss in high school, though, was in the state doubles championship to Metka and Kilbourne in ’09.
“I’ve joked with him once or twice about it,” Metka said about defeating Diaz at state championships. “Totally joking, say ‘Remember what the score was back (in ’09)?’”
The trio dominated Ohio high school tennis from 2007-12, winning a combined seven titles before enrolling at OSU.
The time they put in on court leads to a friendship that has only grown stronger since becoming teammates.
“We knew each other pretty well growing up,” Diaz said. “Playing a lot of the same tournaments, we already had that relationship. And being Columbus kids, you kind of stick together. It’s pretty cool.”
Having three stars just outside of campus was luxury for OSU coach Ty Tucker, providing him with a chance to always be working with them to make them better players.
“In an individual sport, you get unlimited practice time in the summer months,” Tucker said. “To be able to be from Columbus and be able to see your family on weekends … it certainly makes it that much easier to play in a year-round program.”
The opportunity to fine-tune their game was a great opportunity because OSU is nationally ranked in the top 5 consistently. That success demands the best of the best.
The three came in and each redshirted their first year to help better prepare for the high level of competition they were going to play.
Now the time and work they’ve put in has paid huge dividends, as they are each key members in the six-man rotation the Buckeyes have used all season.
“They’re all very good players,” Tucker said. “The nice things is they could’ve gone to other programs and started four straight years, and they wanted to come to Ohio State for a chance to get better.”
The friendship Metka, Diaz and Kobelt had already formed helped the team come together as a whole, as they began the season ranked No. 5, since moving up to the top spot in the rankings.
“I think it unites the team,” Kobelt said of their relationship. “It makes it easier for the Europeans to come over … it’s a more relaxed setting, people are more comfortable with what’s going on. I think, overall, it helps having guys from your own state play for your team.”
Voted captain at the beginning of the season and playing first singles every match, Kobelt’s development allowed him to grow into the team’s leader. He is currently ranked seventh in the nation and has a chance to earn a NCAA Singles Championship.
Metka is best known for his prowess in doubles and he and Kobelt team up to form the third ranked doubles team in the nation. He also cracked the top 125 rankings in singles for the first time in his collegiate career April 8.
Diaz has been holding steady at third singles for the Buckeyes where he is known to frustrate opponents with a never-give-up attitude, returning almost every shot that comes his way.
Already having won 187 straight home matches, with half of the starters being from Columbus, it provides fans with a little extra incentive to watch the Buckeyes continue their reign of terror in the city.
“I think it helps with the fan base,” Kobelt said. “When they see a lot of guys from Ohio, they want to come out and watch and cheer for us more.”
The fans that have been paying attention have been provided a treat.
After clinching at least a share of the Big Ten with a 4-3 win at Purdue Sunday, Kobelt, Metka and Diaz have combined for 12 Big Ten titles and have not lost a single regular season match in Big Ten play.
This season they have already won the ITA Indoor National Championship and broke the NCAA All-Time home win streak in what really has been a dream season so far for them. Winning at their dream school makes it even more special for them, though.
“I think all three of us can agree that we all take pride in being from Columbus,” Metka said. “We’ve all been Buckeye fans since we were young … I think it helps push us.”
The trio is set to continue their journey Friday as OSU is scheduled to take on Iowa at home. First serve is set for 6 p.m.