May 13, 2011
By Matt Winkeljohn
– Imagine new-form day at the Bill Moore Center: the scent of paint hangs oddly in the air, trouble circles overhead, members of the Georgia Tech women’s tennis have shoes on their feet, there is a hot and claustrophobic feel in the stands near court 1 and … the men’s team is playing in the NCAA tournament – at home.
Now, that is something different.
Prior to Friday, when the Yellow Jackets beat Middle Tennessee State 4-0 in the first round, that had happened only once in school history (in 1997).
Coach Kenny Thorne has led 10 of his 13 teams to the NCAA tournament, but until this year he and the 16th-ranked Jackets never knew the joy of home cooking in the post-season. Tech (20-5) earned the right to host with a fine season that has seen the Jackets go 11-1 at home, losing only to No. 1 Virginia.
The home team made it work Friday in a virtual glide.
Tech won the doubles point as the tandems of Ryan Smith-Eliot Potvin and Juan Spir-Kevin King won easily (8-1 and 8-2, respectively) to help Tech clinch the doubles point.
Ah, it’s good to be Smith. He graduated last Sunday. He has a real-world job lined up with Dow Chemical. He and Potvin were in a groove Friday, and he’s playing at “home” in the NCAAs.
“At a lot of different facilities the surface is faster on some and slower on others, and it’s just the feel. Being at home, getting to sleep in your own bed . . . it’s a comfort factor,” said Smith, who moved his record to 16-7 at No. 2 doubles this season while playing with Potvin.
“We played pretty darned well. That was one of the best matches we’ve played this season. Didn’t do anything special, just did the fundamentals real well.”
It was especially hot Friday. In direct sun as the doubles point was being secured, a Hawk flew over the courts with something in its talons. I think I saw a tail dangling; several of us in the stands wonder what kind of vittles the bird had.
If you’re into metaphors, the role of vittles was played by the Blue Raiders of MTSU (13-13).
After the doubles point was locked down, Dean O’Brien won 6-0, 6-2 at No. 2 singles, Potvin won 6-1 at No. 4 and King won 6-2, 6-2 to finish the match. The other three singles matches were then suspended.
“It’s just a big momentum shifter,” Smith said of the benefit of winning the doubles point to set things in a positive direction for singles matches. “If you go out there and you’re already up 1-0 there’s a different feel to the match. It’s a completely different feel [than being down].
“We’ve been down 1-0 and come back and won before, but in the back of your mind I think it does make you more comfortable when you’re up.”
There will a day full of tennis today at Bill Moore.
First, Arizona State’s women will play Mississippi’s women at 9 a.m. Next, the Tech women will face Jacksonville State at around noon. At 3 or so, the men will square off against Mississippi State (which beat Florida State 4-0 Friday) for the right to go the Sweet 16 at Stanford.
Tech skunked MSU 4-0 earlier this season, but the Bulldogs (14-8) have improved.
Smith’s family and friends will make the trip to Tech again today from Marietta and points nearby. “It’s great having them here,” he said. “I had a lot of people.”
Chances are the feeling of strangeness will be diluted. For sure, the women’s team will not be walking around with bright yellow shoes on their hands as they were Friday afternoon.
They finished painting their footwear; today the Jackets will put those shoes on where they belong, and then try to play as if they own the place – which they do.
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