By Larry Watts
Even though he entered Ohio State University as the nation's top-ranked junior tennis player, the college scene has been all about adjustments for Chase Buchanan.
The New Albany, Ohio native chose to sign his national letter of intent and enroll early, joining the Buckeyes in the spring quarter in 2009. That decision presented two hurdles for Buchanan -- entering a full classroom setting for the first time since his sophomore year of high school and becoming a team player, something he had never done in the junior ranks.
"I spent a lot of time training and traveling with the USTA Academy in Boca Raton, Fla. during my sophomore and junior years," he says. "We had classes, but nothing like you really experience in high school or college.
"When I came home for my senior year, I did all my course work online. It's a lot different being at home all the time, where you can play Xbox and hang out with your friends when you want to. It was hard to hear about all the things I was missing by not being in school, but considering all the training and traveling I had to do, it was a sacrifice I was willing to make.
"The first quarter of school at Ohio State was quite an adjustment when it came to schoolwork. I hadn't been going to classes in like forever and the classroom we had down in Florida was nothing like this. I quickly learned that going to class, getting everything done to maintain your GPA while trying to get your training in and managing your sleep was very important."
And then there was the matter of joining the Buckeye ranks in midseason. Not only was there the challenge of messing up the chemistry of the top-ranked team in the nation, but now he also had to get used to playing a team-oriented sport.
"It's a lot different, but I like it a lot," he says. "The first thing you realize is it's not about you anymore. Growing up, most of the practices were centered around me. Now the coach has to worry about the entire team and everyone plays a part. Like everyone else on the team, you have to learn to sacrifice some things."
Buchanan's debut was pushed off until late March because he had developed tendinitis in one of his knees. At one point, he said he couldn't even go up or down stairs without a great deal of pain.
Then head coach Ty Tucker had to perform the delicate task of finding a place for the freshman phenom in his lineup. Until the last nine matches of the season, Buchanan bounced around between Nos. 2 and 5 in the singles lineup. But he finally settled into the No. 6 slot at the Big Ten Tournament and compiled a 5-1 record the rest of the way.
"I had no idea what position I was going to be playing," he says. "I wanted to be on the first four courts, but we had such an unbelievable team, so it was kind of hard to expect to play in the top four.
"It really wasn't a letdown to wind up in the No. 6 position. The older players on the team were great in the way they accepted me and I felt like I was building good relationships."
Buchanan, who was 11-4 overall and 6-1 in the Big Ten, suffered his lone loss at No. 6 when he dropped a 6-0, 6-2 decision to Daniel Nguyen of USC in the NCAA championship match. The Buckeyes wound up falling by a 4-1 count to the Trojans.
"I lost my match bad and I should have been more prepared," he says. "I think that was a huge letdown for our team. Two of the other singles matches were unfinished and we were winning those, so if I had taken care of business, things could have been different.
"It was great to make the championship match and now we know what it takes to get there. We want to take it one step further next time."
The introduction to college tennis also brought a new aspect to Buchanan's game. For the first time in his career, he had to take doubles more seriously.
"I really learned the importance of that doubles point in the college game," he says. "We never stressed doubles in juniors; it was just something we played in order to work on some stuff. But that one point might just be the most important point in the college game, so I need to get a lot better."
The adjustment process is hardly over. During his sophomore season, Buchanan took over the top position in the Buckeyes' singles lineup and attracted the top guns from every school.
"It certainly is a lot different moving from Court 6 to Court 1," he says with a laugh. "The level of play is a lot different. I just have to take my game up another notch."
Buchanan was 4-3 during fall competition. Two of the setbacks were three-setters. After the calendar turned to 2010, he compiled a 24-2 record at No. 1 and a 1-0 mark at No. 2.
Making the adjustment to No. 1 really shouldn't be a problem. He has built quite a resume, which includes playing in three Grand Slam events, including four trips to the US Open.
In the fall of 2009, Buchanan, who has won seven singles and doubles USTA national championships, played in the US Open both in juniors and the men's draw. He fell 6-0, 6-2, 6-1 to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France, who was ranked No. 7 in the world, in the first round of the main draw. Then in the junior division, he reached the championship match before dropping a 6-1, 6-3 decision to Australian Bernard Tomic.
"Making the finals of that tournament is pretty sweet," Buchanan says. "Everyone is there watching you and it's cool to be part of that experience."
Buchanan could keep playing the junior circuit until June. However, he has more important things on his mind right now, like getting Ohio State back to that NCAA championship match.
"It wouldn't be worth it to keep playing juniors," he says. "We graduated some very good players last year and this (Ohio State) program has a pretty high standard. A lot of people have worked hard to create this standard and we have a big responsibility not to let it down.
"A lot of teams will be coming after us because we have set the tone. We have no control over how they are going to play against us, so all we can do is control how we play."