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Defying the Odds

Aug. 27, 2010

By Jon Cooper
Sting Daily

– There may be no greater form of inspiration for a competitor than being told he can’t do something.

That was evidenced during the summer, when some eliminated Spain’s World Cup team after its opening-round 1-0 loss to Switzerland.

Georgia Tech senior tennis player Guillermo Gomez, a native of Alicante, Spain, was paying close attention. He felt the rage build up inside of him after hearing those words.

“I remember seeing on ESPN, one reporter saying the chances of Spain right now are zero,” he recalled. “To give us zero percent chance, I don’t think that that’s very smart. You always have to give a little, one percent. You give a chance.”

Imagine the satisfaction he and his countrymen enjoyed when Spain roared back and won the World Cup — Gomez actually watched the final, a 1-0 victory over The Netherlands, with friends in a packed Paseo de Recoletos Boulevard in downtown Madrid.

The feeling was familiar to Gomez, who’d fought back from adversity of his own during his junior season, as he recovered from December surgery for a sports hernia.

“We didn’t have too much time before our first match in January to create a base and get his weight back down and get him back into the shape he needed,” said Tech head coach Kenny Thorne. “He fought through the season, not based on anything other than showing a lot of heart in his matches.”

Playing at No. 1, he won 29 of 37 matches and finished ranked fifth in the nation, after getting as high as No. 3.

Heading into his senior season, Gomez wants more. Working with the team’s nutritionist, he lost 11 pounds over the summer and improved his conditioning.

“He came back early this summer to drop his weight and get in shape and not just be pretty good, but be one of the most fit players in college tennis,” said Thorne. “He’s made great strides. He’s really gotten stronger. We look for that to continue.”

“I still have a little way to get there but I’m feeling very good, confident,” said Gomez, a two-time All-American, three-time All-ACC and three-time Academic All-ACC honoree, who is at 181 pounds. “I think I’m going be way better than before because when I’m lighter, I feel like on the court I move better, and I’m not going to get as tired. I need to try to keep being strong, but when I get to 178 my coach and me and the nutritionist will see what the next step will be.”

The good news for the Yellow Jackets is that next step will be onto the courts of the Bill Moore Tennis Center.

Gomez’s choosing the ACC over the ATP was never in doubt.

“Obviously I’ve had the thought of playing [pro], but I don’t think I could do that because I would feel I betrayed my team and my coach,” he said. “The other thing is that I really want to graduate, then play tennis more relaxed.

“The pro tour is really tough and, to me, in order for it to be worth it to leave college you have to be in the top 100,” he added. “The easy thing for me would be going pro. But I don’t think that’s a smart thing to do in my case right now.”

Right now Gomez is locked in on a strong senior season. He’s looking forward to the challenge of once again playing at No. 1 and trading strokes with other teams’ best. Topping his list are Auburn senior Tim Puetz, twice his captor last season, and perennial power Virginia.

“I’m playing some of the best players in the nation,” he said. “I always like to play against these players. It’s a challenge. I can see what level I am compared to the others. That’s always fun.

“Ultimately my goal is to be No. 1,” he added. “So I’m not very happy with where I ended up last season. It wasn’t much improvement. On the other hand, looking at all the problems I had during the season, I think it was positive to get through it the way I did, but I’m practicing hard to improve.”

A more concrete goal within his reach is the school’s career wins total, which currently stands at 112 and is held by Thorne. Gomez begins the 2010 season 28 wins away (his 85 wins tie for fifth all-time with West Nott).

“[Breaking the record] would mean a lot,” said Gomez, who has averaged 28.3 wins per year and has won 29 each of the last two years. “I know that at the time my coach played they didn’t have any limit in the schedule. To be able to pass that mark having a limit in the matches I would play, it’s a good achievement. That’s a good goal.”

Thorne is Gomez’s biggest supporter in pursuit of that goal.

“Oh, absolutely, I’d love him to break it,” said Thorne. “My goal is for him to win the nation individually and go on and have an exceptional professional career. As many records as he can break – I will be thrilled for him. But I’m not too worried about him breaking records or goals. I’m worried about the process of making him the best player that he can possibly be.”

Thorne is impressed that Gomez is as close as he is to the record, considering that the NCAA has a 25-date limit per season, a standard that wasn’t in place when he played.

“I had much more opportunity to play,” said Thorne, who finished with a .717 winning percentage, ninth-best in Tech history. “I’m sure the percentage of him winning matches the way he does is much higher than mine. So for him to break the record now is just great.”

Thorne is correct about winning percentage, as Gomez has won 73.9 percent of his matches (85-30) over his first three years, which currently ties him for seventh all-time with Paul Metz (1959-60).

Thorne believes Gomez’s stress of academics has kept the three-time All-ACC Academician, on the right path.

“He will absolutely be successful in whatever he goes into because he’s reached out in a lot of different areas of his life,” he said. “Academically he works hard. He doesn’t take it lightly, and I think having the goal of graduating has helped him keep his interest in academics and what he’s going to do after tennis.”

“Tennis is my passion but I want to be smart about my future,” agreed Gomez. “Academics are a very important thing. If I get a degree I’m always going to have that. On the other hand, I like to learn. So it’s not just about a degree. It’s about feeling very good about myself when I know that I know new things.”

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