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Men’s tennis: No. 3 Ohio State has a target on its back as it climbs back to the top

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OSU junior Mikael Torpegaard (left) and senior Herkko Pollanen (right) celebrate a point against Georgia on Feb. 12. OSU won, 4-0. Credit: Courtesy of OSU Athletics

The Ohio State men’s tennis team is firmly positioned as a national championship contender. Following success against nationally ranked opponents, the Buckeyes hope to use that experience with Big Ten play looming in the near future.

OSU was ranked No. 1 in the country, but after its recent 4-3 losses to Texas and Wake Forest, the Buckeyes are now No. 3 in country. Wake Forest has since taken the No. 1 spot and Texas is ranked sixth, nationally.

The Buckeyes are 8-3 against nationally ranked opponents, which is the kind of schedule OSU coach Ty Tucker said he wanted his team to face coming into the season.

“We try and build the hardest schedule we can build,” Tucker said. “The guys realize, when they come to Ohio State, that that’s what we are going to do. When you play some top-10 opponents, you get a little more juiced up.”

With constant challenges against some of the best teams in the nation, senior Herkko Pollanen feels like his team can now go up against anyone.

“When you know that you can compete against the best teams, you have a lot of confidence going against those guys,” Pollanen said.

OSU boasts the No. 1 ranked player in the nation in junior Mikael Torpegaard. In the middle of a 16-match winning streak and having won 16 of 18 matches against nationally ranked opponents, he said team success all depends on the team’s mindset going into the match.

“You just have to go into each match thinking that your opponent is good,” Torpegaard said, “Knowing how to play them and treating every match the same way, never underestimating anybody. Going in with the same kind of mindset helps you.”

However, becoming the best team in the nation brings its own challenges for players.

“As the season progresses, you got to try and not think about playing with a target on your back,” Torpegaard said. “Everyone wants to beat you.”

With such a high level of success against the best in the NCAA, Tucker knows that the teams coming in are going to step up and play at the highest level against championship-caliber teams.

“As a coach, you know that teams are going to bring it,” Tucker said. “Maybe they get complacent sometimes in other matches, but when they come to Ohio State or when they play Ohio State, we know we are going to see their best shot. They want to have a shot.”

With motivation to keep that top spot, OSU is relying on what got it to this level.

“It brings motivation, for sure, to keep on practicing hard and putting (in) all of the practice hours,” Torpegaard said. “That’s essentially what got us up there. I think we are one of the hardest-working teams in the country.”

The amount of time spent on the courts is what Tucker thinks sets OSU apart.

“They have been put in positions and they keep answering the bell,” Tucker said. “That’s what you have to be most proud of, as a coach. They bring it every match that they play.”

Coming off two losses against top competition, OSU will try to prove that it’s worthy of the No. 1 ranking again with conference play beginning Friday against Michigan State.

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