South African freshman Roelofse adjusting to life on and off court



By Alex Iniguez

Ruan Roelofse is just an average college freshman – except he’s a 6-foot-3 South African-bred tennis machine for the Illini.

Junior Billy Heiser said Roelofse is “built like a rock” and “a tank.” A little extra muscle on the roster never hurts, and Heiser said the freshman is quick in conditioning drills, often times beating out returning players.

When Roelofse arrived at O’Hare Airport after a two hour delay, Heiser was there to greet and host him at his house for three days before heading to Champaign.

“He’s coming from a different country, so he kind of needs someone to show him the ropes a little bit,” Heiser said. “I think I might be the closest to him on the team because I picked him up. We like to hang out and play golf and have fun off the court as well.”

Heiser said Roelofse was very apologetic after the delay.

“I sat at the airport for two hours waiting for him and he walked up and was like, ‘I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.’ And I just said, ‘It’s alright, it’s customs and everything.’ He was exhausted – he had an 18-hour travel day. It was fun though, we ate at Chipotle – his first Mexican food experience in the States. He’s a funny kid. He fits in well with the team.”

As if the adjustment to life in the U.S. wasn’t difficult enough, Roelofse has the privilege of attending an academically and athletically rigorous university.

But the state of Illinois wasn’t his first taste of the States. Roelofse lived in Boston, Mass., for a year and a half before coming to the University and did admit the differences between Boston to Champaign are noticeable.

“The first week or two was a bit hectic,” Roelofse said of his first experiences at Illinois. “Maybe even a little bit after that, with all the traveling and schoolwork, but I think I’m pretty well on getting caught up.”

At Illinois, Roelofse rooms with fellow freshman teammate Dennis Nevolo. Roelofse said he’s the big brother of the two.

“I’ve taken him under my wing,” Roelofse said. “He’s a real good roommate and we get along very well.”

That’s not surprising, though, considering it’s hard to not get along with Roelofse.

“He’s a delightful fellow,” head coach Brad Dancer said of the South African. “He’s got a good, dry sense of humor. He relates well and fits in with the guys really well. He’s a hard worker and a bright kid. I think he has a great all-around personality.”

Former Illini star and current professional Kevin Anderson, who also hails from South Africa, lends a helping hand to Roelofse whenever possible. Anderson also influenced his decision to join the Illinois family.

“I talked to him a lot before coming here,” Roelofse said of Anderson. “And I get to talk to him a lot when he’s around here, but not as much when he’s on tour. It’s great, because he knows exactly where I’m coming from and what’s different over here. He’s been helping me with small adjustments in that area.”

It has yet to be determined whether Roelofse will achieve the same success Anderson had at Illinois, but Dancer said the sky’s the limit.

“He’s very quick and very strong,” Dancer said. “Especially being a freshman, I certainly wouldn’t put any limitations on what he could do in tennis.”