March 28, 2011
By Matt Winkeljohn
Until results prove otherwise, the men’s tennis team has arrived at a pivot point. The 12th-ranked Yellow Jackets are 12-2, 3-1 in the ACC and about to lay rubber to the road in a serious fashion. After traveling to Clemson for a Wednesday match, and then to Boston College and Maryland for matches, coach Kenny Thorne is going to have a referendum on his team.
The road was not kind Sunday before last, when the Jackets fell 4-3 in Miami. Lop-sided wins Friday against NC State (7-0) and Sunday against Wake Forest (6-1) salved a bruised psyche. As in most sports, though, mettle is made away.
“At home, you have plenty of people cheering for you,” Thorne said after Sunday’s win over the Demon Deacons.
At home, the Jackets were outstanding over the past weekend. The Miami wound healed up, although there is still a scar. That’s a reminder of what can happen.
“We said all week that we were going to take out our frustration on NC State and Wake Forest,” senior Eliot Potvin said, “and I think we did a pretty good job of that.”
Indeed, there’s always a deeper story, and that story for the Jackets was about commitment not only in Sunday’s win over the No. 39 Deacons but also in Friday’s over NC State.
The first team to win four points clinches a match.
Tech had clinched Sunday’s match by going up 4-1, but Potvin was still playing at No. 4 singles and Magin Ortiga was still at it at No. 5.
Both could have coasted with the team’s win sewn up; neither did. Ortiga dropped his first set and then won two. Potvin dropped his second set and trailed 5-3 in the third.
They both won. Potvin won the final four games in impressive fashion.
That counts as a win in more than the ACC standings. Attitude matters. Approach counts.
“I think the last two matches were extremely important,” Thorne said. “We’ve had matches in the past where once we’d won the team [match], it was `Whatever.’ It’s not whatever. On the court, it’s our heart. You have worked hard for something. “If you’re on the court playing a match, you’ve got to find a way to win. That becomes a habit. Winning 7-0 and 6-1, handling ourselves it does send a signal to ourselves and other teams.”
Guillermo Gomez, Kevin King and Dean O’Brien won in straight sets Sunday, and Tech won the doubles point, but Thorne wasn’t thrilled with every detail. He felt some players let loose their psychological grip at times. Potvin was one of them. “He does a great job when he gets in a hole of getting out of it. I don’t worry that he’s going to give in too much. It’s a matter of when he’s even or ahead . . . jumping on a guy,” the coach said. “I think he let the match slip a little bit in the second set. He got down on himself a little bit, and gave the other guy hope.” In all, the Jackets did well to get back on track after Miami.
A mix of perseverance and patience was right.
Nolan Blake, the 8-year-old boy whom the men’s tennis team “adopted” last year after he was diagnosed in 2009 with anaplastic medulloblastoma, a brain tumor, was at Sunday’s match. The Jackets tabbed it Nolan Blake day.
It wasn’t exactly a day at the beach, but rather a cool, gray afternoon better built for football. Yet Blake stuck it out the whole way to watch the Jackets win. Potvin had to wait it out as well.
His opponent, Danny Kreyman, and the Wake coaches were clearly unhappy with officiating all afternoon.
In the final game of Potvin’s match the action came to a screeching halt for a few minutes as Wake coaches fussed when the chair umpire – who had a poor day – assessed a penalty point after Kreyman whacked a ball out of play in frustration. Kreyman sat down and waited. Potvin kept hopping around.
“I have to try to stay out of it as much as I can. When the point re-started three minutes later or whatever, I was ready to go,” he said. “[Thorne] just tells us to make sure we do whatever we need to do to be ready.
“Some guys can argue and still be ready. For me, I can argue a little but generally I have to avoid getting into too much of an argument and getting tense because then my muscles are all tight and I can’t play.”