Nov. 18, 2010
By Jon Cooper
Kenny Thorne believes in making the most of every day, but he couldn’t be blamed for wishing he could fast-forward through time just a little bit.
Say, far enough to get to January 16th, the start of the spring season.
Having been an accomplished collegiate and professional player, Tech’s head men’s tennis coach understands the importance of November and December in regard to his players’ mental and physical recovery — fortunately for Tech, not a lot of the latter. He’s just eager to continue building on the success his team had during the fall season.
The Yellow Jackets came into the fall ranked 24th in the nation, featuring the No. 4 player in the world in senior Guillermo Gomez. They knew where they wanted to go and, perhaps as important, where they were going.
“We were coming in with a pretty veteran team so I think every guy knew what to expect in the fall,” said Thorne, whose nine-man roster included seven upperclassmen. “Overall, as a team, we absolutely got better. Result-wise, I don’t think you ever have everybody doing better than they did the last fall. That has never happened since I’ve been here. But overall, the majority of the guys absolutely improved.
“I think they improved their conditioning, I think they’ve improved their competitiveness, and I think it showed in improved results,” he continued. “I’m not necessarily going to pick out one player because each of our guys improved in different areas.”
Thorne isn’t simply avoiding the risk of hurting someone’s feelings by inadvertently omitting them. He really could have named everyone, as up and down the roster there were banner performances.
“Guillermo (who was 11-4) improved his conditioning tremendously,” he said, “I think [sophomore] Magin [Ortiga] improved his competitiveness incredibly. There are some positives in a lot of the different guys that weren’t necessarily just improvement.”
One of the the biggest positives and improvements came from junior Dusan Milijevic. Milijevic finished 13-5 (his 13 wins were the most of any Yellow Jacket during the fall), he reached the semifinals of the USTA/ITA Regionals, the highest finish for a Yellow Jacket in singles, and won eight of his final 10 matches.
“I’ll tell you what, Dusan is a TOUGH competitor,” said Thorne. “He’s quick, he’s got good ground strokes on both sides, he’s got a good serve, he can come in and finish off points at the net. All he needs to do is compete like he did this fall, and he’s going to continue to be one of the better players in college tennis. I think he’s settled into who he is on the court, and that’s kind of a general coaching term, but he’s good enough to beat anybody. When he goes on the court, you’d better have a very big game to be able to beat him because he’s going to fight you all the way down to the last point. That’s what he did this fall.”
Another standout was sophomore Juan Spir, who was magical in singles, where he won 11 of his 15 matches, and doubles, where he and partner Kevin King won 15 of 19, knocking off two top-10 teams and another top-25 team along the way.
Spir and King, who began the season ranked 43rd, started making waves by winning the Southeast Regionals. The next week, they grabbed the headlines at the National Indoors, as on back-to-back days, they knocked off the nation’s No. 8 and No. 1 teams. They finally fell in the semifinals to the nation’s No. 4 duo.
“Kenny had the idea of putting us together. I think it’s turned out very well,” said Spir. “Kevin has a lot of energy all the time and that pulls you out to the court and helps you keep up with the expectations. Coming up this season, I felt that we were better than the ranking that we had. We definitely knew that we were able to be in the top. That’s our goal. Be in the NCAAs next year.”
“I would say we both have good size, good serves, so we cover the court well and we have one lefty, one righty,” added King. “In doubles that complements each other well and we’ve played together for over a year now. That helps.”
Overshadowed some by the play of Spir and King was the team of Eliot Potvin and Ryan Smith. The seniors put together a stellar 7-3 season, and were on the other side of the net in the all-Georgia Tech Southeast Regional Finals.
On and on it could go.
Thorne also went behind the numbers, specifically pointing to King’s 4-4 singles record.
“Kevin, individually, was coming off not playing hardly any in the summer, so his results maybe are skewed a little bit,” he said. “I think he’s well on his way back in singles to reaching his potential and reaching the goals that he has in college. He played a lot of the tough tournaments. He had a couple of losses that I know in the spring he’ll be ready to win those matches.”
The whole team may well follow King’s lead and win a lot of matches in the spring.
“There’s a sense of they’ve seen the competition, they know they belong, and they’re not hoping to win,” Thorne said. “They’ve seen each other have some success and it’s more of they’re very comfortable with success. That helps.
“The guys have won a lot of matches and they’ve lost a lot of matches,” he added. “Just being comfortable in who you are as a competitor, you’re going to be able to at least perform up to your potential and that’s all we ever ask as coaches. For them to be comfortable in themselves, I feel like that’s something we have definitely improved upon this fall and going into spring just trusting in that is going to bring our best performance out in each guy.”