May 23, 2006
One is scarlet, the other gray.
One flicks fading drop shots at opponents' shoe laces. The other pounds aces out of their reach.
One plays more with John McEnroe's finesse and mesmerizing quirky-angled volleys.
The other wields a smashing Pete Sampras-like serve that bites return specialists with placement and power.
Together, seniors Ross Wilson and Scott Green are the best duo in Ohio State men's tennis history - a legacy they have built out of a one-of-a-kind camaraderie between two seemingly polar opposites. When they enter the 2006 NCAA Doubles Tournament on Thursday (May 25) at Stanford's Taube Family Tennis Center in Paolo Alto, Calif., the odd couple will begin their quest for a fourth national title - a mission that can only begin when the tandem realizes how far they have come.
They first met as 12-year-olds, competing against each other on the USTA Midwest Juniors circuit and high school adversaries, hailing from Toledo and Canton, Ohio, but much more than driver's licenses and graduations have changed from their days of adolescent competition. "I didn't really know him that well. I probably thought he was a jerk," Green laughed, elbowing his doubles teammate.
When they came to OSU, Green and Wilson were deadlocked at one victory apiece from their high school rivalry, but they found something better than the competition that first linked them.
The pair started practicing together as freshmen, and by the end of their rookie seasons, Green and Wilson found themselves pitted against California's then-No.1 pair of Steve Berke and Robert Kowalczyk in the Sweet 16 of the 2003 NCAA Tournament. The doubles point came down to the freshman tandem, which sprinted to a 7-4 lead. But their inexperience soon deflated their unexpected momentum. The nation's top team battled back, taking the match and the team doubles point with a 9-7 win.
"We probably didn't handle the pressure for being so young," Green said. "Pretty much we choked, but I think we learned a lot from that."
For Green and Wilson, the loss signified the end of a season but also the beginning of an incredible relationship.
"In that match, we knew we could play with the best teams in the country," Wilson said. "We played together the following year, beating a lot of higher-ranked teams, but we were also losing to a bunch of teams we shouldn't have lost to. We were pretty inconsistent."
But then during the summer of 2004, before their junior year, Green and Wilson played in a number of college doubles tournaments and won all of them, one by one. In August, they entered the ITA National Summer Championships and went on to beat teammates Joey Atas and Chris Klingemann in the title match. The win brought home more than a mantle-piece of hardware. It opened the door for the tandem's three national titles with Green and Wilson earning a wildcard berth into the ITA Men's All-American Championships in October.
"It wasn't something we really expected," Green said. "We knew we were capable of beating the good teams, but we were kind of inconsistent. So in that tournament, everything clicked for us at once, and we played really well at the beginning of the tournament and beat some teams pretty bad. We were kind of ... not shocked but a little surprised. We were just able to keep going the entire tournament and then bring that into the regular season and keep the momentum going."
Unseeded but determined, Green and Wilson took out four top-25 teams en route to claiming the ITA All-American Championships crown. They became the first Buckeye duo to win a national doubles title and only the second Big Ten tandem to capture the title since Michael Calkins and Amer Delic of Illinois were the victors of the 2002 event. One month later, they ripped through the field of 32, riding their national tournament win-streak of nine to claim the ITA National Indoor Championship. With the victory, the duo became the first team since 1992 to own both the All-American and National Indoor titles in the same season.
After a formidable 28-8 junior season record, the pair returned to the national indoor tournament to make history. With the event hosted on their home courts at the Stickney Tennis Center in Columbus, Ohio, the pair outrivaled the field for the second straight year. The Buckeye seniors went through a bracket of the 16 best doubles teams in the country to capture the title, including an upset of top-seeded Marco Born and Andreas Siljestrom (9-7) in the championship final. The win marked the first time a team captured back-to-back titles in the event's history, and distinguished Green and Wilson as only the third duo to ever garner three national titles.
"I think that was a tournament we looked forward to all year because it was going to be in Columbus," Wilson said. "It's tough to win a tournament of that caliber - let alone twice in a row."
If the old adage of opposites attract is all a ruse, don't tell this Buckeye twosome. Wilson, the 5-foot-11 lefty with a more compact build and a game that glows with artistic angles and a fiery intensity, has found a perfect counterpart in his former tennis foe Green, the taller, lanky right-hander with the power-packed strokes.
"(Green)'s a little more level-headed on the court. I get a little riled up," Wilson said. "It's a good mix because I get him pumped up and he helps control my emotions sometimes. With our games, you do something so many times, eventually you get a feel. I know what he's going to do, and he knows what I'm going to do. We've got a good mix."
The combination has resulted in one of the most efficient, consistent doubles duo in the country with a 32-4 doubles campaign. Wilson and Green helped propel Tucker and the Buckeyes to a historic season that included a program-best 28 wins and their first-ever Big Ten regular season title. The squad also captured the conference tournament crown, ending Illinois' string of four-straight wins in the league's postseason event.
"That means a lot. We've put in it countless hours of work for this, and it has always been our No. 1 goal ever since we stepped on campus," Wilson said. "(Ty Tucker)'s a great coach and has prepared us to play this level of tennis for four years. It has always been our goal, every year."
Despite counting their fourth setback of the season in a hard-fought 9-7 loss to Texas' No. 29 team of Callum Beale and Miguel Reyes Varela on Sunday, Wilson and Green are confident and back on track for their doubles title quest.
"We fought hard and can't hang our heads about anything. Everyone should be proud of what we have accomplished this year," Green said after the match. "We'll be ready to play anyone; we're not scared of them."
After three senior leaders, including All-American Jeremy Wurtzman, graduated in 2003, the two heavily recruited standouts from Ohio, stumbled into their own as team leaders during their junior year.
"It was just one of those things that we had to do," Wilson said. "We had a young team and we were kind of young ourselves. We had to take a leadership role." Added Green, "We get each other pumped from court to court while we're playing and make sure the guys are getting along well."
Roommates since their sophomore years, the on-court duet said it takes a bond that goes beyond baseline to baseline to get the most out of their teammates. Living with four other teammates, the pair said it's those close relationships that pay off when the matches are tight and they are pulling for each other.
An added bonus?
"Now I don't think he's a jerk; I know he's a good guy now," Green laughs.
Although the pair is equally different off-court, they have no plans of going separate ways after graduation. A self-proclaimed music-nut, Wilson is majoring in journalism and plans to become a writer for an entertainment magazine after graduating in December. An accounting major, Green has a job lined up as a financial analyst, but he is hoping there's a wrinkle to that post-graduation plot.
If they win the NCAA doubles title, Green and Wilson will earn a spot in the U.S. Open in late August.
"He's got to quit his job," Wilson offered with a grin. Regardless of how the bracket unfolds in Paolo Alto this week, the pair hopes to test their success in next-level tournaments this summer.
Even though Green and Wilson are known for their doubles success, the team co-captains have been able to go beyond their on-court impact and contribute to the Buckeyes' program in many other facets.
Tucker salutes Green as the Buckeye with the most detail-oriented dedication he has coached. After a hard-fought effort to persuade Green to come to Ohio State when Bowling Green - the All-American's first choice - dropped its men's tennis program, the coaching staff gushes about how Green has exceeded his expectations in every level. From setting an example in the weight room to taking recruits under his wing, Tucker foresees losing more than a record-breaking doubles player to this year's graduation.
"He has been a great player for us and I think it is fair to say he has over achieved," Tucker said. "He really has a lot of talent for the game."
No stranger to the limelight of leadership, Wilson started at No. 1 singles all four years at Toledo's St. Francis de Sales High School, piloting the team's 50-0 run to back-to-back state titles as captain in his final two seasons. The solo experience paid off when Wilson was put to the biggest test of his singles career in the Buckeyes' Big Ten Championship final match with Illinois.
With teammate Devin Mullings down a set and on the ropes against Illinois' then-87th-ranked G.D. Jones in the No. 3 singles match, the Buckeyes needed only one more win to clinch victory and turned their title hopes to their co-captain. After notching the first set against Illinois' Ruben Gonzales (6-4), Wilson fell 6-3 in the second and found himself staring at a 5-3 deficit in the third. He held serve to move within one and then broke Gonzales' service game to level the match at 5-all. Now down 6-5, Gonzales tossed a double fault and dumped a volley in the net to set up double match point for Ohio State. After watching Gonzales' next forehand approach shot sail long, Wilson clinched the championship title with the 6-5, 4-6, 7-5 victory.
"To have a guy from Ohio, who was down 5-4 in the third set, come back and clinch the match for us was unreal," Tucker said.
As a former Buckeye All-American and an Ohio native himself, Tucker's program has flourished with a roster that is more than half-composed by in-state talent. With Green and Wilson as one of his biggest recruiting tools, the pair is proud to build on the OSU tradition that had been deep-rooted in their collegiate tennis dreams as children.
"It's awesome for two guys from Ohio to be able to have the success we've had," Wilson said. "I'm sure it doesn't come around that much, but it was my goal from my freshman year of high school to play at Ohio State, so it's awesome to be here. I think when Ty first started, everyone knew his demeanor and how hard he would work the guys, that one way or the other they would be a really good team."
Green, who trained with OSU All-American and four-time All-Conference selection Ernie Fernandez from age 12, knew that the tradition and demands of playing under 2006 Big Ten Coach of the Year Tucker made the fit unmatched.
"Ty is the kind of guy that you knew, if you came here, he would find a way to make you better," he said. "Sometimes you don't always get that in college tennis. And of course, the atmosphere that comes with being a Buckeye."
If their progress from that May contest four years ago is any indication, Green and Wilson have reaped dividends with their trio of national titles and aura of on-court knowledge. The team has grown from an inexperienced pair that survived matches with impulsive and unspecific shots to using percentages and controlling the momentum and their reactions in big-time contests. But for Green, the hope of reaching his ultimate goal - an NCAA Championship Crown - depends on the memory of that slip-up against Cal.
"Learning how to win," he said. "It's not something that you can really teach, but it's something that through out experiences at OSU we have learned how to do. What did we learn in that match? We learned to keep the balls in the lines when it matters.
"This year, we had a lot of tiebreakers with good teams, and we've been able to win all of them. We really learned how to play the big points. Once we get there, it's the best teams in the country going day after day, so being able to put out your best effort is going to be the ultimate decider. Right now it's kind of one of those things where we'd be foolish if we weren't out there playing every point with the highest level of enthusiasm that we can."