by Jack Williams
When Roger Anderson made the trip from his home in South Africa to enroll at Georgia Tech, he had a one-way plane ticket, two travel bags–and a tennis racket. If everything goes according to plan, the guy may need some extra luggage for a few tennis trophies when the time comes to go home.
Now a Yellow Jacket sophomore, Anderson and his teammates on the Georgia Tech men’s team are moving up so rapidly in Atlantic Coast Conference and national rankings, they figure to hit the jackpot in the years that lie ahead.
In fact, they are not exactly double-faulting their way through the current season. Just check these facts:
Coach Kenny Thorne’s Yellow Jackets are ranked 20th in the country, the highest ranking for a Tech team since the final poll of 1988. The Jackets are 16-4 overall, have a 6-1 Atlantic Coast Conference mark and have swept 11 of their last 12 dual matches.
Tech can clinch second place in the ACC behind powerhouse Duke with a victory over North Carolina when the teams meet at the Bill Moore Tennis Center on the Tech campus Friday afternoon. The matches begin at 2 p.m.
Anderson, for one, believes Tech has a chance to defeat the Tar Heels. “I have no negative thoughts as I look ahead to that match,” he said this week. “We are on the border in an effort to reach our goals. We have now become a threat. Our long-range objective is to overtake Duke and be a Top 10 tennis program. “
The young man from the small South African town of Pietermaritzburg is doing his best to make all of that happen, emerging as a leader of the Tech revolution in the sport. Playing either at the No. 1 or No. 2 positions, he has posted a dual match singles record of 12-7 and is 15-11 overall, including tournaments. The Rookie of the Year in the ACC last season, Anderson teams with his good friend David Wright of Guayaquil, Ecuador to form a potent No. 1 doubles team. They rank 37th nationally in doubles and boast a dual meet record of 12-6 (15-8 including tournaments).
Anderson says he and Wright complement each other well on the court. “David is a great partner,” he said. “He is so active, so full of bees. There is nothing ever dull about him.”
Thorne, a former tennis star at Tech and in the professional ranks, is excited about all the players on his surprising Tech team. He says glowing things about Anderson. “I was fortunate to find him in the first place,” Thorne says. “In Roger, we got the total package, a person with great character, a hard worker and a young man who respects everyone.”
Thorne’s other top players are a mix of seniors and underclassmen. Seniors Sergio Aguirre of Atlanta and Romain Coirault of Paris, France, are leaders of the pack who also specialize in beating top-ranked opponents. Freshman Joao Menano of San Paulo, Brazil is 10-2 and 19-6 including tournaments at the No. 5 position and another first-year player, Alex Navinko of Houston, Texas is 11-4 and 23-8, playing either at No. 5 or No. 6. Then there’s Stephen Moros, a transfer from Texas A&M and a native of Sarasota, Fla., who is 13-6 since joining the team this spring.
The international flavor of the Tech team, with players representing four foreign countries, is a big plus, according to Anderson. “We are very close,” he said. “We are a group of jokers. It is special that we have players from different countries. We never get bored because we are constantly learning new things from each other.”
Along the way this sparkling season, Tech has lost only to highly-ranked teams, Duke and UCLA when both were ranked third nationally, Georgia, then ranked eighth, and Southern Cal, 23rd at the time. The Jackets have had their share of major upsets over such noted teams as Miami of Florida, South Carolina, Virginia and Vanderbilt.
Anderson points to the 4-3 victory at Miami as the highlight of his two seasons with the Jackets. “I was fortunate to defeat Tomas Smid at No. 2 singles in the match that clinched the victory for us,” he said. “We played under the lights and the Miami fans were going crazy. They were very vocal to say the least. It was special to win under those conditions.”
Anderson captured that match in a comeback, 6-7, 6-4, 6-3 and Tech triumphed, 4-3.
“That performance was typical of the kind of player we have in Roger,” said Coach Thorne. “He’s quite a competitor. When the match is close, he’s the guy you want on the court.”
What does Anderson consider his strong suit on the court? “I feel I can eliminate a player with my forehand,” he says. “I am athletic. Mostly, I am very competitive. I want to win every point.”
Anderson had never visited Georgia Tech or Atlanta before making the trip here to enroll in 1999. He had always wanted to attend college in the United States and got his chance when a mutual friend of his and Coach Thorne, South African Stanford Boster, contacted the Tech coach. Boster, now a coach in Boca Raton, Fla., suggested Thorne give Anderson a call.
“I broke my first rule of recruiting-not seeing a player perform before signing him,” Thorne said. “But I trusted the word of Stanford who is an expert at sizing up talent.”
A tennis player since he was eight years old, Anderson had starred in International Tennis Federation Tournaments as a youngster. He won a major tournament title in Casablanca and captured two national tournaments in his home country.
“Cricket and rugby are the most popular sports in South Africa,” he said. “I played those sports, too, when I was growing up. Cricket is similar in some ways to baseball and I have become a big baseball fan since I arrived in this country. In fact, I’d like to get into the batting cage and take a few swings against the pitchers on the Georgia Tech team.”
Anderson comes from an athletic family. His dad, Richard, was a rugby player in a provencial league. His mother, Judy, played golf in a women’s professional league in South Africa. Roger’s brother, John, 18, is a cricket player. His sister, Kelly, 16, may be the biggest family star of all. She is the No. 1 ranking girls’ player in South Africa in the 16-and-under age group.
Roger says his sister has expressed interest in attending Georgia Tech. “She’s quite a player,” he said, “very strong for a player of average size.” Roger does admit he manages to beat Kelly “because I have success moving her around.”
Roger’s mother currently is visiting in Atlanta and will get an opportunity to watch Friday’s big match against North Carolina. This is her first visit to Atlanta and her son says “she loves it.”
Aside from his accent, (He sounds a lot like South African golf stars Gary Player and Ernie Els if you have tuned in to an interview with them), Anderson seems to be right at home in the southern part of the United States. “I love Atlanta,” he says. “It took a while to adjust to a different lifestyle here. But I really like it now. In fact, I may decide to stay in the United States and pursue a career here.”
He is majoring in management.
Anderson says he could not be more pleased with his Tech tennis participation. “This is the first time I have been a part of a structured tennis program,” he said. “I used to play maybe three times a week. I have great respect for my coach. He has been there and done everything. So I listen to him.
“One reason we are so much improved is because of the stress Coach Thorne puts on conditioning. We are in such good shape, we can stay out there all day and never get tired.”
Following Friday’s match against North Carolina, the Jackets look ahead to the ACC Tournament at the ACC SpringFest in Orlando, Fla., April 19-22. Then comes NCAA Regional competition, scheduled May 12 and 13.
Anderson is sitting on go. He’s got those two bags-and his tennis racket–packed once again. He and his Georgia Tech teammates are shooting for the stars.