Big Shot at the Big Time

June 16, 2015

By Jon Cooper
The Good Word

Tennis is a big deal in Atlanta.

A recent study found that some 347,000 people played tennis last year in Atlanta, the most of any city in the world, according to Eddie Gonzalez, BB&T Atlanta Open Tournament Director and Chief Development Officer.

The BB&T is becoming a big deal on the ATP Tour.

This year’s field will add to that growing reputation with a field that features two-time defending champion John Isner, former World No. 1 champion Andy Roddick, who is coming out of retirement, pros like Mardy Fish, the `10 and `11 BB&T singles champ, who will be Roddick’s doubles partner, four-time ATP titlist Marcos Baghdatis, multiple Olympic champions and the most decorated doubles team in ATP history, brothers Bob and Mike Bryan and Jack Sock and Vasek Pospisil, the `14 BB&T doubles champions.

Promising make this already big deal even bigger for Atlantans and fans of Georgia Tech Tennis will be Atlanta native and Yellow Jackets sophomore sensation Chris Eubanks, who earned a wild card spot in the main draw and could be doubly rich, as sophomore Michael Kay also is competing for a wild card spot. (17-year-old rising star Frances Tiafoe earned the other spot and will play Roddick in the “Celebration of American Tennis” exhibition on Monday July 27).

Georgia Tech Men’s Tennis Coach Kenny Thorne was one of the many dignitaries in attendance at Monday morning’s press event at STRIP restaurant in Atlantic Station, to announce the nine days of festivities, which begin with qualifying (July 25-27) and is followed by the Main Draw (July 27 through Aug. 2).

Thorne is thrilled for Eubanks, whose presence makes it five straight years an active Yellow Jacket plays in the event. He joins Kevin King, who played doubles in 2011 and `13, and singles in `12, and Juan Spir, who played doubles with King in `13 and was in the main doubles draw last year.

“It’s extremely unique. To get into qualifying is a privilege. To get in the main draw is a gift,” Thorne said. “Eddie Gonzalez has done a great job about promoting a `College Night’ and giving some of our best local young guys a chance to play against the best. You don’t really see that too often around the tour.

“Chris is excited. As soon as he met with Eddie, he hasn’t gotten the smile off his face,” he added. “But now he knows how serious it is. He has to get ready. So it’s going to be a good opportunity.”

Just how unique this opportunity is for Eubanks was put in perspective by Gonzalez.

“Georgia Tech’s basketball team could never play against the Hawks for real,” he said. “But Chris Eubanks’ dream is going to come true. He’ll get to play on stadium court at night on Tuesday night as part of our `College Night’ for real against an ATP Tour player. So we’re very excited about Tuesday night with Chris Eubanks.”

Eubanks, who was named All-ACC Second Team, finished his debut year with a 24-19 singles record and was 14-11 in dual matches during the spring, playing at No. 1 or 2 all season. Six of his wins came against players ranked in the ITA top 40 and he was selected to play in the NCAA Championships, advancing to the second round.

The 2015 BB&T marks the third time in four years that Eubanks has played in the event, falling in the first round of qualifying in 2012 and 2013. Being battle-tested in this event could work to his advantage this year.

“He’s been in the qualifying which is a little different than the main draw but at the same time every player here is good,” Thorne said. “But for sure it helped to have him have an opportunity to play on the courts and play against some of the guys. It’s just a matter of being able to handle it. He’s going to have to come out here and serve well. He’s got a big serve but he has guys that know how to return big serves.”

Eubanks has been working out and travelling through Europe on a three-week tour with fellow Atlanta resident Donald Young, the ATP’s current 56th-ranked player, who also will be in the BB&T field. That training should do him some good in preparation of the BB&T.

“Donald was gracious enough to take him around so he’s getting a chance to play,” Thorne said. “So just being around the guys he gets to hit with some of the top players. That definitely helps. So [The BB&T] won’t be as new but, again, you have to play at a pretty high level to be able to compete here.”

Teammate Michael Kay hopes to join Eubanks in the event. The Alpharetta native, (23-21, 10-14 in dual) and Eubanks’ doubles partner (they were 15-11, 8-5 during the spring) won one of four qualifying tournaments last weekend and will play for a spot in the BB&T against other tournament winners at Atlantic Station July 21 and 22nd.

“He did well for us this year. He’s a talented player,” said Thorne. “He’s got to come out and win two more matches for an opportunity to get into it.”

Thorne, who showed he still has some game — he blasted serves into the promotional Lexus Perfect Serve stand at 95, 102 and 103 miles per hour, the highest of anyone who took his whacks — expressed great appreciation for the job Gonzalez and BB&T has done attracting local talent and promoting the game in the city.

“I just love the opportunities we have here in Atlanta to be able to even get there,” he said. “They’ve been great at just opening it up. It’ll be a great time.”

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