A conversation with St. Xavier High School senior tennis standout, Ronit Hiryur, about his tennis beginnings and his experience as a hitting partner at the Western & Southern Open. Ronit committed to the University of Dayton in early September and is gearing up for another season as the Bombers No.1 singles player.
[side note: every year the best young talents in the Cincinnati area (hs & college kids mostly) have a unique opportunity to volunteer as hitting partners for the pros during the W&S Open]
Nate Walroth: How many years have you come to watch this tournament?
Ronit Hiryur: I’ve been going up to Mason for the last 6 or 7 years as a fan, but this was my first year hitting with the players. It was a different experience than my previous years coming up here.
NW: Who or what gave you the idea to do it this year?
RH: Doug Matthews (Xavier University Head Tennis Coach) coaches my Ohio Team Cup team…and he kind of reached out. His first year hitting with the top players was his senior year at Kings High School and I wanted to have that same experience.
NW: How and when did you begin playing tennis?
RH: I started pretty late. I used to swim and I didn’t start playing tennis until I was 11. So, then I swam, played basketball, and played tennis for three years until I was 14. I hated swimming though. Swim practice was brutal. We had two practices a day for two hours (laughs…shakes his head).
NW: Why’d you swim in the first place?
RH: My sister is the one who likes swimming and that’s why I started. I was actually one of the top swimmers in the area for the twelve and under group, but I didn’t like it. I would hide in the bathrooms during meets. I wanted to do anything besides swim. I even played around with paddle tennis and eventually began camping out on the tennis courts during meets. I started asking my dad to come down to the courts to hit balls and that’s how I started playing.
NW: Did you start playing a lot quickly after this?
RH: No, for the first two years that I played, I only got out once a week. On Thursday. So Thursday was my favorite day of the week until I was 14 and began playing a few times a week. I loved Thursday’s.
NW: How much are you playing now as a college commit heading into your senior year?
RH: I practice five or six times a week. I just practice playing sets and practice matches. Once a week I will have a drill session with my coach Will Lofgren (Queen City Racquet Club pro).
NW: How do these couple weeks of training compare to your normal summer weeks? Are you getting a similar practice/training session in yourself?
RH: It’s probably about the same. When I’m at Queen City…I’m out there to work on my game and focus on the shots I need work on….but here I’m hitting to help someone else work on their game. It gets you out of your rhythm a little, but it’s definitely worth it. This is an awesome opportunity to come here and meet the players and their teams. Just being able to see the type of ball they hit is really neat for me.
NW: Who was fun to hit with?
RH: Alexander Bublik was a really fun hit. He was easy-going and we just played super tiebreakers. We also made a bet. If I won he agreed to pay me $200, but if he won I would have to do butts up in front of the fans watching. So…there’s video of that happening (laughs).
NW: Which player did you gain more respect for this week?
RH: Richard Gasquet. I warmed him up before he played Diego Schwartzman. I’m thinking he probably asked me because I’m a pretty small guy myself and he wanted a ball that’s similar to what he’ll see on court.
NW: Gasquet is a bit of a fan favorite in Cincinnati. Seemed like a down to earth guy from the couple conversations I had with him. How did you hit against him?
RH: He is. I was playing really clean because all his shots have a great drop on them. His spin on both sides…great ball. I could hit all my rally balls clean to the baseline. It was a solid half hour hitting session. I had fun.
NW: Have you learned anything from the way the players prep/function at a tournament?
RH: Yes, all the players here are so disciplined when they’re out on the tennis court. Sometimes I get my phone out or something at changeovers during practice, but you don’t see that here. I hit with someone who didn’t have a coach and she was super dedicated to working on her game. She had me feed balls to her for a half hour and then we hit for an hour after that…going hard.
NW: Their work ethic is impressive…
RH: For sure. I’ve been coming in here in the morning around 8 or 9, then I stay here all day for 12 hours. Really eating, hitting, recovering, and everything at the facility. It’s given me a good feeling for what it takes.
NW: The players lounge and cafe are nice. Getting to see the players away from the court is neat. How was the food?
RH: I don’t know if I can eat that pasta again for awhile (laughs). I went to the pasta bar six days in a row.
NW: Lastly, you committed to UD. You had a handful of schools you were considering awhile back. Why did you choose Dayton?
RH: Right. Dayton wasn’t actually one of the first schools I was looking at, because I wasn’t sure if I wanted to stay close to home or not. But I took a visit there and felt like it was a really good fit. I really liked the campus and the team and coach, and felt like I could see myself being there for 4 years.