May 26, 2011
By Matt Winkeljohn
– It will not surprise you as it did not me to learn that Guillermo Gomez, Juan Spir and Kevin King are having grand extended stays in northern California and not only because they’re there for grand reasons – to play in the exclusive NCAA tennis championships.
Stanford and attached environs are cool. Add the fact that school’s out, and life’s good. Asked what he’s done to pass so much time between when the Yellow Jackets were eliminated from team competition a week ago by USC (which went onto win its third national title by beating previously unbeaten Virginia) and the present, Spir said he’s taken up a couple books.
“The Girl Who Played With Fire,” is some sort of mystery. What matters most to Spir, though, is the sophomore from Colombia is turning pages on his terms rather than those of a professor. As he said, “I’m really enjoying reading something I want to read.”
That’s not all the Georgia Tech trio is loving. They’re playing in the NCAA championships by invitation, which is a big deal.
Gomez has won twice in the field of 64 to reach the “Sweet 16” of mano-y-mano competition while King and Spir won their first doubles match Thursday.
A lot is different in what they’re doing now.
In the case of Spir and King, the No. 14-ranked college doubles team in the land, there’s a very different format at hand. Otherwise, they’d be on their way home. The Colombian and the junior from Peachtree City lost their first set Thursday, falling 4-6 to Kyle McMorrow and Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan of Washington. Lose a doubles set during the regular season — first tandem to eight wins, as long as they’re up by two games or more — and that’s it; you’re done for that match.
At the NCAAs, however, it’s best of three.
So the wily Jackets, and they are that, re-calibrated a bit and went to whacking. It helps when you’re 6-feet-4, and 6-2, as are Spir and King, respectively, but it matters no less that you have a certain inner resolve. Oh, and serious game(s).
“We made a few adjustments, we knew with our serves we were going to be in the match,” said King. “We wanted to get returns cross court, hit high first-serve percentages. We both knew that we could come back. I think we both bring pretty big serves to the match, and in doubles that’s huge because you’ve got guys at the net and we both volley well. With our size, we cover a lot of ground.”
It helped that in a rare three-set format last fall, King and Spir had lost a first set in a match and rallied to win. They were a long way from home, Spir especially so, but not in completely foreign territory.
“We were playing two out of three sets, and you have to have a different type of mentality,” Spir said. “One set does not determine outcome of match. We had two sets to go, and we had that experience in the national indoors [last fall]. We were mentally prepared. I would say that [King’s] lefty, I’m right-handed, and that gives a little bit of a mix-up on our serves so [opponents] can’t get comfortable.”
So King and Spir won the final two sets Thursday 7-6 (with a 7-2 win in the tie-breaker) and 6-1.
They will likely will need all their tools today when they play No. 1-ranked Boris Conkic and John-Patrick Smith of Tennessee.
Gomez, who is playing in the NCAA singles championships for the fourth year in a row, on Thursday beat Oklahoma’s Costin Poval in straight sets. Today, he’ll play another Volunteer foe, third-seeded Rhyne Williams.
First, though, he probably caught some hoops on the telly. It’s a good bet that he watched the Bulls and the Heat Thursday night, especially since he was two hours behind game time. Whenever Gomez loses next, the Spaniard’s college career will be over. Suffice to say, Tech’s all-time winningest tennis player is making sure to enjoy the last bit of his ride.
“I like to chill in the [hotel] room and watch the NBA playoffs,” he said. “I like to have the chance to go get dinner in different places. If it’s possible, I’d like to go to San Francisco. We went once after the team lost, and it’s a great place. We may go again.”
How much better would it be to go after four more wins?