While likely watching Serena Williams win the grand slam, much like she did a few weeks ago, Ellen’s three-year old daughter saw the tennis on TV and made her intentions known.
Today, Olivia Rohrbacher is one of the best high school freshmen in the country while playing No. 1 singles for Perkins.
“I kept bugging my mom, telling her how bad I wanted to play tennis,” Olivia said. “And she just kind of figured I was so little, it's just a thing that will pass. Then six months later, I was still asking her ‘When do I get to play?’
“It’s something I’ve just done and always known,” Rohrbacher added. “It’s something I'm good at so I stuck with it. I worked hard to get where I am. I can’t really explain why I chose tennis because it's something I’ve always known.”
Rohrbacher started playing competitively when she was 6, and admittedly took her losses.
“I didn’t win a lot for the first year, but it was still just about getting the experience,” she said. “Being six years old and playing someone who is 10 is tough, but it certainly helped.”
The freshman will begin play in her first-ever Sandusky Bay Conference tournament today and Saturday, while the state tournament trail looms two weeks later. She's 13-0 for the Pirates in singles competition, and has only given up a total of six games.
Eight of her wins were 6-0, 6-0 sweeps, while four others have been 6-0, 6-2. On Monday, Clyde's all-time wins leader, Amanda Cahill, managed to score a 6-2, 6-0 loss to Rohrbacher, who has added three wins in doubles play this season.
Rohrbacher already holds a United States Tennis Association ranking, and according to tennisrecruiting.net — the top site for junior tennis — she’s ranked 81st overall nationally for her 14-under age group.
The site also ranks her as a four-star recruit and the second-rated player in Ohio in her age group behind Alexandra Sanford from Olentangy Orange.
Rohrbacher is 74-27 overall on the junior circuit, including a 10-8 record versus five-star recruits and a 16-9 mark against four-star recruits.
At the USTA national championships (14-under) in Georgia in August, Rohrbacher went 6-1 overall in the 128-player field.
“It’s 128 of the best girls in the country, and every match is a battle. You have to be so focused, so mentally tough,” Rohrbacher said. “Tennis is an everything sport. It’s pretty close to solitary confinement out there. The tournaments are hard and tough. The summer is a grind playing tournament after tournament, but you get through it and you do what you love. I wouldn't be playing this long still if I didn’t.”
After the lengthy summer run, Rohrbacher embraced the start of her high school career, and has been as advertised.
“It’s fun, a lot different than national tournaments, but I like the different aspects of it,” she said. “I like the team part, and I'm excited for the SBC’s. It hasn’t been that easy, because I went from the national championships one day to playing in a high school scrimmage the very next day.
“It’s just a lot different,” Rohrbacher added. “The matches don’t say they are that difficult, but I still need to work on stuff, and to make sure I'm gracious on the court. I can take something out of each match. I need to.”
Perkins coach John Schlessman has seen his share of tennis players come through the area, but knew instantly he was inheriting a special one in Rohrbacher.
“She’s as good a freshman as I’ve ever seen in this area, because she doesn’t play like one,” he said. “She’s just light years ahead of most freshmen. What is most impressive is her focus. She has a very mature focus. She's had a lot of high level teaching, and there isn't really a facet of her game that isn't strong. Overall, I would call it an eclectic game, but it’s powerful. She makes her opponents pay for short balls and plays an aggressive game.”
Schlessman knows the chatter is out there on Rohrbacher with the state tournament trail on the horizon, but downplays such talk.
“Those types of things will take care of itself,” he said. “Part of her maturity is she understands to concentrate on the process, not the results. The way she is playing right now, it’s going to take an awfully good player to beat her. She knows how to play on the big stage.
“She can handle it, because she's a special player. Olivia has been a wonderful teammate as well. Generally, after her matches get over, she goes and supports the others.”
As for the pressure and expectations placed on Rohrbacher, the prodigy isn’t shying away from them.
“I want to go all the way. I hope that's everyone’s goal,” she said. “I’d like to obviously make it to state, place there or even win it. I want the team to do well, because the team part has been really fun. I hope everyone goes far.
“I like the pressure,” she added. “Does it put a target on my back? Yes, but I like it. It doesn’t really affect me. It's just another tennis match, just another day.”