J.J. Wolf beat fellow American Sebastian Korda 6-4, 6-7 (3), 7-6 (6) on Sunday, in the finals of the JSM Challenger of Champaign-Urbana. Winning five matches in five days, including a couple three setters, Wolf claimed his second title on the challenger circuit. The win moved him up 66 spots in the rankings, up to 189th in the world, a career high ranking.
“I grew up playing on indoor hard courts, so I felt really comfortable”, Wolf said after winning his third match. “It’s pretty cool playing in another Big Ten setting (Illinois), somewhere I’ve played before.” He was pleased with his play and his ability to execute the game plan the coaches and he had. The goal was to make a high percentage of first serves and “pound balls into the corners and get to the net.”
Wolf, who turned pro in July, forgoing his senior year at Ohio State, says he never thought much about the tour until after his breakout 35-2 junior year campaign. “After the season I was able to reflect. I thought I made nice improvements (in my game). I also think I played every college tennis player ranked in the top 15 and believed I stacked up pretty well.” Wolf was a dominant singles player and a near lock for a point every match. He took pride being done first in singles and “letting some pressure off the guys and being able to cheer them on.”
It was very tough for Wolf to leave one of the best tennis programs in the country and the school that he loved. “I love the coaches and the guys with my whole heart. Fortunately, I live in Columbus and still get to see them.” He misses playing with his teammates and for Buckeye Nation. He admits it has been an adjustment. “At first, it was a bit of a shock. The extra strength you get from playing for a team and for your school was taken away from me. Now I’m playing more for myself and my new team (coaches & family).” Life on the challenger circuit is quite different than being an All-American at OSU.
He’s beginning to get comfortable on tour though and is “finding that same joy” and passion he once had on the court. He noted his passion, “comes from wanting to make my family proud a little.” (Coming from a competitive family of tennis players and other athletes…a little proud is likely an understatement.) It’s the reason he loves the Western & Southern Open more than any tournament. “There’s no substitute for it.” Playing in the city he was born and raised, in front of his family and friends.
Growing up, Wolf stuck with tennis over other sports not because he necessarily loved tennis, but because he loved that he could control the outcome. “I loved that aspect of tennis.” He didn’t like relying on others for results, a common theme in team sports. Wolf also acknowledges, “there’s no better feeling than hitting a clean ball though,” something all tennis players can relate to.
Wolf keeps things simple. He has no ranking goals or win totals in mind for this upcoming year. His only short-term goal is to make “little jumps” in his game in order to reach his ceiling down the road. His ultimate goal. Wolf mentioned his fitness, movement, and diet as his main areas of focus right now.
As well as winning the title Sunday and reaching a career high ranking, Wolf secured a spot in the Australian Open qualifiers. He was very excited to learn he’d be starting the 2020 season Down Under. “I’m just getting my foot in the door. Won couple challenger titles…couple top 100 wins. I’m very happy overall with my 2019.”