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A Great Run

May 30, 2011

By Matt Winkeljohn

Sting Daily

Trying to think of something uplifting to write after Kevin King and Juan Spir lost valiantly Sunday in the national semifinals. I can’t.

The fellas had a fine, fine run in beating the No. 1-seeded doubles tandem from Tennessee in the second round and in the third round eliminating the No. 7 Duke combo that beat them in the ACC tournament.

Spir and King fell 6-4, 7-6 (9-7) to the same duo from Texas A&M that barely eliminated them in the fall from the national indoors before winning it all -at Stanford.

I really wanted Spir and King to win it all because I have tremendous respect for the Tech tennis teams. That respect is special because men’s coach Kenny Thorne, like women’s coach Bryan Shelton, works uphill.

Recruiting to Tech is no picnic in any sport. Tennis-wise, Tech’s facilities are OK but nowhere near on par with the UGAs, Stanfords, UCLAs and so forth of the college tennis world. It’s not close.

There are plans to change that, and there is even a tentative goal of beginning construction after next school year. But until Thorne, Shelton and others can push the final fund-raising drive across the finish line they’ll continue to recruit uphill.

That is by NO MEANS an attempt to suggest that the Jackets don’t recruit great tennis players. But their depth is not on par.

Beyond that, there is this:

I’ve been around athletics as a professional observer for 24 years and I’ve seen ego. Don’t like it. Confidence, I can handle. Borderline cockiness, I can deal with that, too, most of the time.

In the Tech tennis programs, the scales of hubris just about always strike me as right. There are players who transfer or bail because they think they’re not getting what they deserve. That happens at every school.

But at Tech, the Jackets have their heads on straight, and Spir and King are examples of that. At the end of our phone conversation Sunday, King – who is not outspoken – thanked me for “following us.” It felt great yet made me sad. The tennis teams deserve more than they get.

You’re probably not going to make a habit of rushing to Tech for tennis matches next year because of what I write. But you should think about it. If you do, take time to get to know the coaches and players. That opportunity is not easily found in most sports.

There is something endearing about that.

As for the match, Tech’s meeting with Texas A&M’s Jeff Dadamo and Austin Krajicek was not unlike their meeting in the indoors national semifinals last fall. Spir and King also lost the first set there, and the second went to a tiebreaker as it did Sunday. Tech won that one last fall, though, and then fell 7-6 in the third in another tiebreaker. The Aggies then won the national indoors title.

Sunday, the teams broke each other’s serves in the first two games, and then the Aggies won a break late to win the first set.

“In the second set, we both kept holding serve all the way until 5-all, and then they broke and we broke right back,” King said. “[In the tiebreaker it was] mostly holding serves. We saved a couple match points at 6-5 and 7-6. They closed it out on serve at 7-all and then we lost a service. We knew a point here or there could decide it.”

King and Spir finished the season at 35-11, setting a school record for doubles wins in a season (by five). They reached the semifinals of the nation’s two biggest events, and won the Southern Intercollegiate title.

At some point soon, Spir will go back to his native Colombia, and later he’ll return to Atlanta to dial in on his junior season. He may play No. 1 singles next season. King said he’ll take a couple weeks off in his hometown of Peachtree city, return to training, and then before school starts he will play two low-level professional tournaments. He can take no more prize money than what is required to cover his expenses, as per NCAA rules.

It’s a lock that Spir and King will remain doubles mates.

My good news is that next year I might be able to go see in person perhaps the best doubles tandem in Tech history win it all. Spir will be a junior, King a senior and the NCAAs will be at UGA.

Their good news? I dunno. Maybe we default to cliché here.

“We’re obviously disappointed that we didn’t win,” King said. “We wanted to win a title for Georgia Tech. We played the way we wanted to play, and fought hard; it could have gone either way. You have to give [Texas A&M] credit. They came up big on big points. We’ll look forward to next year and trying to win it all.”

It might behoove you even if you’re not a fan of tennis to inquire about helping make happen the improvements to Tech’s tennis facility.

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