Nov. 23, 2005
After going through the growing phase of relying on the play of four freshman in 2004-05, this season the Georgia Tech men’s tennis team returns an experienced group as it enters the 2006 season. This year’s squad will feature one senior, one junior, and four sophomores, each of whom played in significant matches a year ago with the goal in mind of obtaining a bid into the NCAA Tournament for the sixth consecutive year and advancing to the second round for the first time since the 2001 season.
“I believe we have one of the best young teams in the country and the talent to really make an impact,” said head coach Kenny Thorne, who begins his ninth season at the helm of the Yellow Jackets. “I think we are solid all the way through the lineup and that we have the experience. Last year, we had the talent but not necessarily the experience and jumping into the season should not be as tough this year. It’s a fun team to coach and I’m excited to see some of our guys step up and play at the level I know they are capable of playing.”
For the past two months, the men’s team participated in five events and many players had strong showings during that time.
One player who has shown great improvements over his career at Tech has been the lone senior of the class, Marko Rajevac. The Yugoslavian native is one of two returning All-Americans for the Jackets after leading the team in singles dual match wins with 15 during his junior campaign. He also competed in the NCAA Doubles Championships where he and teammate David North earned All-America honors by advancing to the quarterfinals before falling to eventual national champions John Isner and Antonio Ruiz of Georgia. Rajevac recorded a 7-1 record in three-set matches during the 2004-05 season, the best of anyone on the team, and had a 5-5 record in ACC play. He posted a 2-5 record in singles action during the fall and teamed with North to win the consolation draw of the Polo Ralph Lauren ITA All-Americas. The duo also advanced to the Round of 16 at the ITA Mideast Regional before falling 9-7 to a team from Old Dominion.
“Marko has been one of our most improved players in the past year,” Thorne said. “He wins a lot of big points, and although he didn’t have the best fall, he was only a couple of points away from having a great fall. He’s doing a lot of things right and I think he’s on track to keep improving. Marko has also worked very hard on the mental aspect of his game and it was great to see him become an All-American last season.”
Tech’s other upper classman is junior Zachary Rath, a native of Montreal, Canada.
A year ago, Rath was a steady force at No. 4 singles, posting 10 victories and a 6-4 record in ACC play. Late in the season Rath also began playing No. 3 doubles with Scott Blackmon and the pair posted a 6-3 record with wins over Vanderbilt, North Carolina, and NC State. During the 2005 fall, he was one of the Jackets’ top performers with a 8-4 record in singles action. His best performance came at the Southern Intercollegiates where he advanced to the semifinals of the Main Draw before falling to Christopher Rea of Ole Miss. Rath also reached the Round of 64 at the ITA Mideast Regional before losing to No. 45 Carrin Cohen of Virginia. He and Blackmon advanced to the finals of the Southern Intercollegiates and the Georgia Tech Fall Invitational, losing to teams from Duke and Georgia, respectively.
“Zach has worked very hard on a couple of areas of his game over the past season that let him down at times last year,” Thorne stated. “I think that not only has he improved technically but he is much more confident in his game and that’s very important in tennis. He and Scott Blackmon have also really played well in doubles during the fall and will be a key to our success this season.”
One of the four sophomores competing for Tech this season is Scott Blackmon from Pensacola, Fla.
Competing primarily in doubles during his freshman year, Blackmon compiled a 8-6 record at the No. 3 doubles spot, including a 4-6 ACC record. He had four different playing partners during the dual match season, finishing the year with Zachary Rath and a 6-3 record along with a win over Vanderbilt in the NCAA tournament. Blackmon saw action in four singles matches and posted a 2-2 record in dual matches at No. 5 and 6 singles.
In the fall season this year, he posted a 4-5 record in singles play while advancing to the Round of 16 at the Crimson Tide Fall Classic and the Georgia Tech Fall Invitational. After falling in the first round of the ITA Mideast Region II Championships, he rebounded to defeat Sandeep Daiya of North Carolina in straight sets. Blackmon teamed with Rath in doubles where the Tech duo had a 7-4 record. The two fell to teams from Duke and Georgia in the finals of the Southern Intercollegiates and Georgia Tech Fall Invitational. Blackmon ended his freshman season with a 10-8 record in singles and a 20-15 record in doubles.
“Scott has really improved his ground strokes and volleys, and some of the things that he’s worked on technically will improve his game dramatically,” Thorne said. “He’s got a great awareness in doubles and he and Zach are going to be important to us this year.”
Another sophomore that made an impact during his freshman campaign was Jordan Delass. A native of Marietta, Ga., Delass played both singles and doubles during the dual match season but finished the season only playing singles. He recorded a 13-8 record in singles during his freshman year, competing anywhere from the No. 4 to No. 6 spot. Delass compiled a 8-8 record at No. 5 singles, including a 4-5 record in ACC play and a perfect record (3-0) at No. 6 singles. He also recorded a straight set win over Vanderbilt’s Nathan Sachs in the NCAA Tournament.
In fall action this year, Delass has compiled a 8-4 record in singles action and had his best performance at the Georgia Tech Fall Invitational and the Crimson Tide Fall Classic where he advanced to the quarterfinals both times. He reached the Round of 32 at the ITA Mideast Regional and was Tech’s top player, falling in straight sets to No. 33 Todd Paul of Wake Forest. Delass also paired with George Gvelesiani in doubles where the pair had a 6-3 record and captured the “B” Doubles Championships at the Georgia Tech Fall Invitational. They also advanced to the semifinals of the Crimson Tide Fall Classic.
“Jordan has improved mentally and is starting to understand how good of a player he is,” Thorne commented. “He has the ability to step up and play with the top guys in the nation and the stronger he becomes, the more he will realize this.”
George Gvelesiani, a sophomore from Norcross, Ga., competed at the No. 6 singles position as a freshman and will look to be a force at one of the singles spots this year. Along with posting a 5-3 record in ACC action during his freshman year, he had wins over Vanderbilt’s Evan Dufaux, Florida State’s Chip Webb, and Clint Boling of Clemson. He competed in 13 singles matches during this fall, recording a 7-6 record and ending the season on a strong note, advancing through the ITA Mideast Region qualifying bracket before losing in the Round of 64. Gvelesiani also reached the consolation finals of the Crimson Tide Fall Classic before falling to Stephen Ward of William & Mary in straight sets. He also paired with Jordan Delass to post a 6-3 record in doubles competition along with a win in the “B” Doubles Championships at the Georgia Tech Fall Invitational.
“George is another guy that can play with anyone in the nation,” Thorne stated. “He’s worked on a couple of areas to improve his game, and although he’s struggled a bit during the fall season, he was able to turn it around and really showed what a great competitor he is.”
Tech’s other returning All-American is sophomore David North, a native of Durban, South Africa. North became the first freshman in school history to earn All-America honors when he teamed with Marko Rajevac in the 2005 NCAA Doubles Championships and advanced to the quarterfinals. He played at No.1 and No. 2 singles throughout the season, posting 11 victories in the spring and a 3-4 record against players who finished the year ranked in the year-end ITA Singles Rankings. North also compiled a 2-1 record at the No. 1 singles position, including wins over Georgia’s Antonio Ruiz and Miami’s Tim Krebs. He teamed with Marko Rajevac at No. 1 Doubles and recorded 17 wins on the season, advancing to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Doubles Championships. The pair had a 5-7 record against ranked players, including victories over teams from Utah and Tulane. This fall, North has struggled in singles play, posting a 3-5 record, but dropped four of those matches in three sets. He advanced to the Round of 64 in both the Polo Ralph Lauren ITA Qualifier and ITA Mideast Regional. In doubles play, he and Rajevac posted a 8-3 record along with the doubles title in the consolation draw of the Polo Ralph Lauren ITA All-Americas and a Round of 16 appearance in the ITA Mideast Regional.
“David was put in a tough position as a freshman because we put him at No.1 and No.2 singles,” said Thorne. “He reacted about as well anyone could, and he did have some tough losses but also came up with some good wins. David will be vying for one of the top spots again this season, and he’s been there already so he knows what it takes to play there. He’s a tough competitor and has a lot of talent, which he’s shown by becoming an All-American as a freshman.”
“I’m extremely excited about the direction in which our program is heading,” stated Thorne. “We’ve been successful in developing players, and I think we’re one recruit from being a top-five program nationally. Because of the quality base of players that we have, all it takes is one guy stepping up at the No.1 or No.2 singles position, or a freshman coming in and making an immediate impact. There’s a few guys on our team that are capable of doing that so I’m excited about our future.”
As in year’s past, the 2006 schedule for the men’s team will be challenging. That schedule will feature some of the top teams in the country, including 11 teams who participated in the 2005 NCAA Tournament.
“I think we’ve got one of the best schedules in the nation and we’ll be playing a lot of top-25 teams,” commented Thorne. “There’s no better way to improve than to play a tough schedule. We don’t have a single freshman on the team so everyone will have at least a year of experience and will know what to expect. At the beginning of every season, I get excited because I see the improvements in our players from the summer and fall and once we get into the dual match format, it seems the players are ready to work even harder.”
In addition to the already strong teams in the conference, the ACC will welcome Boston College this year after adding Miami and Virginia Tech last season.
“The ACC is becoming one of the best conferences in the nation in all sports, and tennis is no exception,” Thorne commented. “With the addition of these teams, there won’t be as many byes in the ACC tournament so more teams will have to play an extra match. You could end up playing matches four days in a row, which is like the NCAA tournament. Since the ACC had one of the best showings in the NCAA last year, the expansion is a positive and should improve the strength of the conference.”