When South African tennis player Nicolaas Scholtz committed to Ole Miss in 2012, he had already played in all four junior grand slams and carried a career-high ranking as the No. 22 junior player in the world. The Caledon, Za. native was the best recruit to ever play for the Rebels and immediately began to tear up the SEC and NCAA field.
He was the only freshman to earn All-America honors in both singles and doubles and named SEC freshman of the year after reaching the NCAA Singles Quarterfinals and led the team to the sweet sixteen. As sophomore, he ended the year ranked No. 17 in the nation in singles and No. 4 in doubles and followed it up with a No. 14 singles ranking the next year. As a junior, he was named the SEC Player of the Year.
Choosing to come back for his senior season instead of going pro, Scholtz left Ole Miss as the most decorated player in the program’s history. He became the first four-time All-American in the history of the program and just the 39th all-time in Division I men’s tennis.
When his time as a Rebel came to a close, Scholtz went pro on the ITF and ATP Tours and carved out a professional career in both singles and doubles around the world. He is one of the top players from South Africa, alongside Lloyd Harris and Kevin Anderson, and consistently represented his country in the Davis Cup.
We touched base with the best to ever do it at Ole Miss on his time in Oxford and what he’s been up to lately. My questions are in bold:
Let’s start way back… When did you first start playing tennis? Why did you get into it?
I started playing at six years old. My father was a professional rugby player and had a career ending injury so he never wanted me to play contact sports. My parents both played tennis and they pushed me into the sport. One thing led to another and I became pretty good at it.
When did you know you were good enough to do it on the next level?
Around 16, 17, 18 I started taking it really seriously. By the time I was 18, I was top-20 in the world and the top player on my continent. I beat three players in the top-5 so I knew I was one of the good guys. Actually, I was the second-highest recruit in the world to go to college in 2012.
So why Ole Miss? Why not go pursue the professional tour?
In college tennis you’re in a safe environment with a lot of great coaches around you, playing a lot of competitive matches. The determining factor for was being able to compete against talented guys every week and get an education at the same time. When I was being recruited, I had a real liking for Billy Chadwick, Toby Hansson and the coaching staff.
I never even visited Ole Miss, or any school, for that matter. I had only been to Miami and New York before, so I was expecting a big city. When I got to Oxford, it was comfortable to me because I grew up in a small town on a farm and I absolutely loved it.
You went on a tear at Ole Miss… is there a title/honor/award that means the most to you?
There are two that are by far the standouts. I always wanted to be the SEC Player of the Year because that means you have to be undefeated, play top of your lineup, and you could not lose one game. You literally had to be on top of your game every week. That was by far the greatest moment for me.
And then when I got to my senior year and I was a three-time All-American and had the opportunity to be Ole Miss’ first four-time All-American, I knew I had to do it. It was pretty cool and no one has done it after me.
When you graduated in 2015, you started winning right away in Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Turkey and Gabon… How did you establish yourself in the professional circuit?
It was tough. That was one of the hardest things I’ll ever have to do in my life. They take such good care of you as a college athlete and then all of a sudden you’re completely on your own.
You’re booking your own plane tickets, applying for your own visas, scheduling your own practices, you have to take care of your own gear, handle your own tournament schedule. In individual sports, you do a lot of the stuff on your own and I found myself being alone in a hotel in a foreign country a lot.
What does it look like trying to go out and get sponsors… do they come to you?
I can go on about this topic for two days... If you don’t win, you don’t get paid. It’s a catch-22. You need to train, which costs money. You need to travel, which costs money. If you don’t win, you get no money. And then you need to fly to the next place, and so on.
If you don’t have good backing or sponsors behind you, you can’t even give it a shot. That’s the harsh truth of the sport. Most tennis players fund themselves, with help of friends and family. If you’re not a certain ranking, you can’t play in certain tournaments so you have to go out and finance it yourself. It’s not like football or baseball where a good college player gets the big deals or contracts.
Was there a highlight moment?
I always loved playing tennis in a team environment. My favorite moment by far was in a huge Davis Cup match against Slovenia in South Africa and I played Grega Zemlja, who was ranked as high as No. 30 in the world and lost to Roger Federer in five sets at Wimbledon.
I lost the first set 7-5, lost the second set 7-6 and it started raining. We took a break and came back under the lights, and I won the next three sets 7-6, 7-6, 7-6. I saved six match points in the third set and it was an insane five-hour battle. It was awesome.
It’s been five years since graduation, and you haven’t played competitively since 2018. What have you been up to recently? What does the next year look like for Nik Scholtz?
I got a serious back injury that put me out six months and after I rehabbed, I decided it was time to find something that would benefit me beyond the first third of my life. Everyone’s road goes different ways and I feel like that road has been decided way before you do. My family has a commercial fruit farm outside of Cape Town, so I’ve been learning the science behind everything and trying to learn the ropes. We are adding two or three acres every year— whether apples or pears, it keeps growing. I want to be like a sponge right now and in about a year, I plan to be running everything on my own.
I also put up a campsite on the farm, about 500 yards long around the river, and that keeps me really busy right now with 120 people visiting the farm every weekend.
Okay, now some fun ones... What is your favorite restaurant in Oxford?
Big Bad Breakfast is one of my loves. I’d include Snackbar, Jinsei and Boure.
When you’re about to hit the court, what pump-up is music is on your playlist?
Lil Wayne, Wiz Khalifa, Drake... even Lil Jon. The older I get and the more I listen to my old playlists, I feel like I was a little bit crazy when I was playing.
What are your top-three TV shows?
My favorite show of all time is Sons of Anarchy. I just finished Peaky Blinders and I love the Michael Jordan documentary ‘The Last Dance.’
What is your favorite food?
Braai, South African barbecue.
Is a hot dog a sandwich?
What would Nik Scholtz’s slogan be?
Be good or be good at it.