TGW: Double the Fun

April 21, 2016

By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word

Having doubled their success rate in a year’s time, the Georgia Tech men’s tennis team will try to better that today in the ACC Tournament and there’s a good chance that the Kay brothers will jump start everything in doubles.

Michael and Casey are big on the family thing, as demonstrated last Sunday when senior Michael wore a Tech hat and his twin sister Whitney’s North Carolina warm-up jacket as she and the Tar Heels took on the Yellow Jacket women.

For a couple hours at the Ken Byers Tennis Complex, the Kays were pulled in two directions. That won’t happen today when the 30th-ranked Jackets (15-7, 8-4 ACC) take on Louisville (13-15, 1-10) at 4 p.m. in the Cary (N.C.) Tennis Center.

Tech’s men have been stitched together like brothers while improving upon last season (14-13, 4-8), and the Jackets’ success goes beyond what the 33rd-ranked doubles tandem of the Kay brothers has given head coach Kenny Thorne.

“I think the most special part about it is, and we’ve talked about it – coach was actually talking about it at practice – we’ve got a group of guys who really like being around each other and we’re all pretty much like best friends,” said sophomore Michael Kay. “Every single person wants to do well for each other.”

Christopher Eubanks has headlined for Tech because even if you can somehow miss the 6-foot-7 sophomore on the court, it’s nearly impossible to move past his 18-2 record at No. 1 singles. He’s 11-1 in ACC action, ranked No. 7 nationally, and his only two losses came on the road to players ranked Nos. 11 and 20.

First, though, the Jackets tend to win in doubles, where they took the point in eight of 12 ACC regular-season matches.

The Kays (15-11) spent much of the season at No. 1, where they’re 5-6 against nationally ranked duos.

Funny thing is, they don’t have as much background together as you might think. Casey, a senior, was limited last season after coming off hip surgery following his transfer from Georgia and he and Michael played together just twice. They lost both.

Even growing up together in Alpharetta, they rarely competed as a doubles team in juniors tennis.

“Not much at all. There were only a couple of tournaments we played together because I was always an age group ahead of him, two years older,” Casey said. “Then, when he came to Tech I was injured . . . so the first time we really got a chance to play together a lot was this last fall.”

It didn’t take long for the Kays to sync up.

They won the A draw of the Tech Fall Invitational, and beat a pair of Top 20 duos on the way to the semifinals of the USTA/ITA Regionals in Gainesville, Fla.

“It’s more intuition. We just know each other’s games so well,” Casey said. “We can talk to each other and tell each other what we need to work on and those kinds of things I think help a lot.”

Michael, an information technology major, at times sounds like an echo.

“We’re super comfortable with each other. We pretty much know what to expect, and how to lift each other up out of certain situations, and what to expect of game style and,” he explained. “We’ve been training together for like 12 years. I pretty much know what he’s going to do on each shot.”

Tech’s other doubles teams also are grooving.

Shelton and junior Carlos Benito are 13-4, and senior Nathan Rakitt and freshman Andrew Li are 12-5.

Should the Jackets repeat their regular-season win over Louisville (5-2), they’ll face No. 3 North Carolina on Thursday. The Tar Heels edged Tech 4-3 in Chapel Hill to wrap up the regular season last weekend.

Regardless of how much longer Tech keeps playing (the Jackets are a virtual lock to earn an NCAA bid), the Kays plan to keep teaming up.

Casey expects to take a degree in finance next month after making the ACC Academic Honor Roll in each of his first two seasons at Tech, but he’s not planning to wrap up his tennis too soon and neither are the Jackets.

“There’s definitely some sentiment in having him graduate,” Michael said. “We’ve been training together for years and years, and we definitely intend to play when we’re done with our college careers. We’re going to play a little bit over the summer as well, but it’s definitely a little emotional.

“Going on a trip where we travel in a sleeper bus and stay in the same hotel . . . I just feel like if we can get on a roll and build on each other’s energy and things like that, it’s pretty cool just being around a team day after day.”

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