A Life Centered Around Tennis Is Working Out Just Fine For Casey Ratzlaff
by Joanne C. Gerstner
Casey Ratzlaff, the top-ranked American man in wheelchair tennis, lives a simple life — according to his own rationalization. On an average day, he practices tennis, spends time helping coach Dartmouth men’s tennis players, works out off-court and crashes at home for some downtime.
It’s a good life, one he enjoys a lot.
Tennis is his priority, occupying his time as a professional player and a volunteer assistant coach for Dartmouth. Ratzlaff, ranked No. 14 in the world, remains constant with his main goals: trying to win Grand Slams, qualifying for another Paralympic Games and performing well in other big tournaments. Most pressing in the near term are the Parapan American Games being held Nov. 17-26 in Santiago, Chile.
“My focus is tennis, and being here (at Dartmouth) is really perfect for me,” said Ratzlaff, who moved to Hanover, New Hampshire, over the summer to start his new gig with the men’s team. He followed his personal coach, Justin DeSanto, from the University of Alabama at Birmingham to Dartmouth. DeSanto was the head coach at UAB and is in the same capacity in Hanover.
“Justin, and everybody here, is so supportive of my career and my focus on being the best in the world,” Ratzlaff, 25, said. “The facilities here are first-class and make it super easy for me to practice and train, do the off-court workouts, all in the same place. It encompasses all of my needs; it has been a great experience so far.”
Ratzlaff is a college student himself, taking undergraduate online classes in sports management at Wichita State University in his hometown. He jokes he is on the “1,000-year plan,” with his life playing in Grand Slams and big tournaments taking precedence.
He enjoys being part of the college tennis scene, helping Dartmouth’s players on and off the court. He freely admits being an elite wheelchair player has differences from the able-bodied game they’re playing, but in the end, the court and strategies remain the same for all.
“The tennis team culture is great, and the guys are wonderful, I love being around all of it,” he said. “I am at practices helping them out, and on match day I can give them a different perspective on court. Tennis is tennis. I can relate to pressure situations, analyze their opponents, look for weaknesses and give them different eyes for things. I am happy to help them in any way that I can.”
This will be his second appearance at the Parapan American Games, with the first being in 2019 in Lima, Peru. He won a silver medal there, playing doubles with Christopher Herman, on grass. Ratzlaff is looking forward to experiencing Santiago and playing on clay at the new Anita Lizana Tennis and Racquet Sports Training and Competition Center.
“I think it is going to be awesome,” he said. “The Parapans in Lima were super fun. I love having these experiences at these big, international tournaments because I love the team culture we have. I’m super pumped with be with Team USA again. I love seeing my teammates, the national coaches, getting to be with people I grew up looking up to, all of it. I look forward to all of it. I hope we can have similar results to the last Parapans. If we play good tennis, I think we can do some damage there.”
Four years ago in Lima, the Americans earned five medals including one gold.
Ratzlaff said he wants to strengthen the mental aspect of his game. He’s reached the level where every player is outstanding in their skills. The difference between getting to the semis of the U.S. Open and winning the title comes down to the mind.
“It’s a mental game of chess here, where you need to find the ability to develop the confidence and maturity in your own game,” he said. “The difference will come when you can hit those mental growth checkpoints. Are you taking care of yourself? Are you mentally and physically healthy? Are you mentally approaching every match in the best way? Those are the strides I want to continue making. I want to keep getting physically stronger, break down those barriers I face in my matches.”