Local tennis player participating in U.S. Open qualifier this week
CINCINNATI (WKRC) - Coming from one of Cincinnati's most prominent athletic families, it's not surprising that JJ Wolf played several sports through his grade school and junior high school years. But as a sophomore in high school he decided to pour his focus toward tennis, and it certainly appears like he made a prudent decision.
Wolf, a Cincinnati Country Day graduate who just completed his freshman season playing for Ohio State University, is competing in this week's U.S. Open qualifying tournament in Flushing Meadows, New York for one of 16 spots in next week's U.S. Open main draw.
He earned one of the 128 spots in the qualifying tournament by finishing as runner-up in the USTA Boys' 18 National Championship a couple of weeks ago, losing in the title match to No. 2-seed Patrick Kypson in five sets.
The 128 players are placed into 16 eight-player pods with the winner of each pod advancing to the main draw.
"It's a dream come true," said Wolf, who was the Big Ten Freshman of the Year and ITA Midwest Regional Rookie of the Year in 2017 while also earning First Team All-Big Ten honors. "I've been wanting to play in this tournament since I was eight years old and now I'm getting that chance."
He actually played in it last year in doubles when he and Ohio State teammate John McNally won the 2016 National Hardcourt doubles title, which earned them a spot main draw. They lost in the first round, but that didn't take away the excitement and enjoyment of participating in it.
"Being that young and being able to be around people I got to watch on TV and share it with one of my best friends was great," said Wolf. "We played a good match against some good players. It was a great experience."
Wolf and McNally came up just short of qualifying as a doubles team this year when they lost in the semifinals of the National Hardcourt.
That leaves Wolf on his own now to try and earn his way into the main draw.
Having to perform on his own is what drove Wolf to gravitate toward tennis in the first place.
"I played basketball up through eighth grade and soccer until my sophomore year in high school and then just decided it was time to focus on tennis, because I had been competing in team sports and was pretty good at most of the ones I played. But I just realized I wanted to control my own destiny," he said. "I knew in tennis it was basically all up to me. It's your coach and you and how well you perform. It's all on you."
Wolf is among the latest in a long line of family members who have excelled in athletics, starting with his grandfather Charley, who played football, basketball and baseball at Notre Dame and went on to serve as head coach of the Cincinnati Royals when they were an NBA franchise and the Detroit Pistons in the 1960s.
JJ's father, Jeff, played basketball at Rollins College and is a member of the school’s athletics hall of fame, and his mother, Brooke, was an All-MAC tennis player at Miami. His sister Danielle is currently a sophomore on the Ohio State women’s tennis team, and numerous uncles and cousins played different sports in college.
While he admits to being, "a little starstruck," while playing in the main draw doubles tournament last year, he is much more focused on his game and performance level this year. He said he's worked hard since arriving in New York on some mechanical things with his game and especially on being tighter and more precise with his serves and returns.
"I'm not here just to say I got here, I'm here to play to win," he said. "I've been practicing with a lot of the guys (in the tournament) and haven't felt like anbody has blown me off the court. I definitely feel like I belong here."