Nov. 11, 2014
By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word
Nathan Rakitt was the headliner last weekend as the Georgia Tech men’s tennis team closed its fall season and the junior won the championship of the Bulldog Scramble by going undefeated in five matches in Athens with two wins over Bulldogs.
The Yellow Jackets had other stars this fall in a string of competitions set up for individual rather than team scores, and head coach Kenny Thorne can hardly wait for the spring dual/ACC season.
Rakitt won his final six matches of the fall, where every Jacket other than mending junior Casey Kay played at least nine matches.
Tech has four freshmen on its nine-man roster, and they all played enough matches to both get a feel for their strengths and weaknesses on the college level, but give coaches Thorne and Derek Schwandt a feel for how their games can be improved upon.
“I think everybody had their moments,” the head coach said. “You saw the potential that this team has at moments, and then you saw a little bit of immaturity. I absolutely believe we got better and better, and worked through some things.”
Rakitt was 5-0 in singles in Athens to pump his fall record up to 6-3 after a 0-3 start, and the Jackets met with positive results over the past two months while scattering around a variety of events in preparing for a critical spring slate that includes ACC action.
Casey Kay missed the fall schedule while rehabilitating from summer hip surgery, but the other eight Jackets were busy.
The 76th-ranked Rakitt found great success in Athens, and it began with a 3-6, 7-5, 6-1 win over Louisville’s Van Damrongsri.
Better yet, in his second match he met long-time nemesis Nick Wood of Georgia, and beat him 2-6, 7-6 (7-4), 6-1. Wood, ranked No. 89, easily beat Rakitt in a dual match when they were freshmen, and also fared well on other occasions.
“We came out [of high school] about the same time, he’s from Tennessee, our paths have definitely crossed quite a few times. He’s always been a tough matchup,” Rakitt said. “I’m the kind of player who likes to come forward and take control. I like to win or lose the match myself, not allow them to play their game.
“Nick really likes that. He likes counter-punching. He was able to counteract everything I do well. We’d played probably five or six times, and I’ve never won more than three games in a set off him. This was a good confidence boost for me.”
Wood got off to another solid start in the Friday match. Rakitt, though, rallied.
“He was doing what he’s always done, coming up in big moments, and making me play,” Rakitt said. “I told myself to kind of do what Kenny has preached the last couple years, I have to believe in my abilities. There should never be any doubt that if I play my game and execute I’m going to eventually win.
“In the second set, it was close the whole way, and then I won a couple crucial points. Then, I won the tiebreaker. I think with him, he had the absolute belief that he was going to win. It was the last match of the day, everybody was gone, and he had absolute faith based on what the Georgia fans sounded like. He kind of hit rock bottom for a couple minutes; he was devastated.”
Rakitt rallied to win the match, and later beat No. 40 Andrew Harris of Oklahoma, 6-4, 7-5, and then topped Georgia’s Eric Diaz, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 on Sunday to finish his road trip with an undefeated record.
Other Jackets had solid falls as well.
Senior Eduardo Segura went 13-4, freshmen Michael Kay was 11-6, and freshman Chris Eubanks was 9-6. Carlos Benito, Cole Fiegel, Elijah Melendez and Daniel Yun also played multiple matches in preparation for the spring.
The Jackets won’t play again until a Jan. 10 dual meet with Georgia Southern, and coaches will be limited in how much time they’re allowed to spend on the court with student-athletes between now and then.
That doesn’t mean anybody is going to relax.
“Starting today, we have a couple days off,” Rakitt said. “Then, we start with the captains’ practices. Coaches are not allowed to be on the court, but we’re kind of running practice, myself and Eddie and Casey [Kay].
“I don’t think at any point we really say, `We’re done’ and we become regular students. It’s nice that the offseason starts today, but we have to keep in mind that the first dual match starts two months from today.”
Rakitt said he is looking forward to Casey Kay returning to action after he underwent hip surgery last summer.
Thorne is excited about that prospect as well.
“This is a good group of guys. They understand this is time to get better,” Thorne said. “[Casey] will be there. He could be ready for doubles [Jan. 10]; he’s improving every week, and he’s hitting balls.”
Rakitt is looking forward as well.
“We’re always adding on and getting better. The pressure of competition is released for a short time, but I don’t think that means that we stop working,” he said. “We’re always improving something. We’re really going to start on the conditioning, and working in the weight room.
“Casey is one of those guys who I cannot wait for him to be back on the court. He’s put in the most work of all of us.”