#TGW: Back on Serve

Oct. 5, 2015

By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word

– Nathan Rakitt is not sure if he’s playing the last of his competitive tennis or on the verge of taking his game to the next level, but the Georgia Tech senior is certain of one thing: he’s better off not thinking about that stuff.

As he begins play today in qualifying for the Saint Francis Health Systems ITA All-American Championships at the University of Tulsa, Rakitt is seeking to return his game to the baseline – his baseline – for his final college season.

After earning second-team All-ACC honors as a sophomore, he put together a six-match winning streak last fall that pushed him to a No. 49 national ranking (ITA).

Eventually, he started looking ahead, and his junior season turned into a mess. A shoulder injury poked a hole in his boat, and then visions of life as a pro sank him.

Rakitt began the spring dual meet season playing at No. 1 singles, where he spent much of his sophomore season, and he won his first three matches.

Then, he lost track of the here and now, and began losing – a lot.

“I had a little problem with the shoulder . . . and dealt with that. After that, it was really my mind,” he said of a spring campaign that ended with losses in 15 of 17 matches. “I was struggling with consistency, attitude and effort. Confidence wavered.

“I had a pretty good fall and sort of started putting pressure on myself, [thinking] maybe I could play pro. Several guys who had played here — Juan Spir, Kevin King, Dean O’Brien – where having some success so I started to see myself potentially doing that. I kind of got ahead of myself.”

Rakitt slid down the lineup, settling – more or less – at No. 3 singles.

He was 0-7 there, 1-1 at No. 4, 1-4 at No. 2 and 3-3 at No. 1.

In dreaming of life as a pro, Rakitt started training more like one, which is to say alone. That didn’t work well for him, nor his team.

Rakitt, Tech head coach Kenny Thorne and assistant Derek Schwandt diagnosed problems over the summer.

“I do much better when I am pushing other people . . . [but I was thinking] if I want to go on the Tour, I need to start training myself,” he said. “I was fighting a lot with myself internally last spring, not really grasping what was going on.

“In my mind I didn’t have the same fire and desire to win, all the intangibles that should be second nature to us as athletes. Late spring and summer, I had difficult conversations with Kenny and Derek analyzing where I was.”

Rakitt needed to re-ramp his work rate.

Looking back, he saw that he was best the summer before his junior season when working to bring incoming freshman Christopher Eubanks along and into the program. Eubanks, ranked No. 24, is in the main draw of the ITA All-American, where Rakitt and Carlos Benito are in qualifying.

“My strongest asset has always been my work ethic and my passion for working hard,” he said. “Kenny noticed … if I was working out by myself I would do the work, but if I was working out with another guy I would definitely push myself — not because I wanted to beat them, but because I wanted to make them better.

“With Christopher, helping because I knew he was coming to Georgia Tech helped me. I’m getting better. He’s getting better. The team is getting better.”

Rakitt’s solution, realized Thorne and Schwandt, has been to scrap the lone wolf approach and jump back into the team.

“That was a good wakeup call, realizing that my actions affect others,” he said. “I need to be an example, leading by example and going to work every day.”

The future can wait.

As an Industrial Engineering major, Rakitt is on track to graduate in December, 2016 after completing a fall semester of senior design.

He’s not sure tennis will be over next spring, when his college athletic eligibility will expire. That’s to be determined as Rakitt is spending time exploring the possibility of life as a professional … management consultant.

“I’ve spoken to several former teammates and athletes as well as people in the business world trying to figure out what a day in the life is like,” he explained. “I see myself going there, but at the same time I want to keep open the option to keep playing competitively after I graduate.

“Over the summer, I really worked to acknowledge where I was. I had to take a step back and say, realistically, ‘This is what happened.’ I’m feeling much, much, much better out on the court during matches and practices.”

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