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#STINGDAILY: First Service

July 19, 2013

By Jon Cooper
Sting Daily

– There’s something special about that first professional event. It’s all new, with so many unknowns, but, that’s part of what makes it so exciting.

Juan Spir is ready to gain that experience this morning, when he embarks on his professional career, playing in the Qualifying Round of the Fourth Annual 2013 BB&T Atlanta Open.

“It’s a great opportunity to be playing in such a big, important tournament and being able to practice and hopefully play against top players,” he said. “I’m definitely very excited about it and very thankful with (Tournament director) Bob Bryant and, obviously, with the whole Georgia Tech staff, Kenny Thorne and Derek Schwandt, who have helped me prepare to get where I am today.

“Hopefully there will be some Tech fans out there,” he added. “I know a couple of friends of mine are going there, my girlfriend is going to be there. Hopefully I will have some people cheering for me.”

Formerly known as the Atlanta Tennis Championships, the event, being held at Atlantic Station today through July 28, will feature some of the ATP’s best, including doubles Grand Slam champions Bob and Mike Bryan, as well as, on the singles side, Mardy Fish, the ’10 and ’11 champion, James Blake, John Isner, and Lleyton Hewitt. For more, including ticket information, visit

While the 2013 qualifiers will mark Spir’s first event as a professional, the BB&T isn’t exactly uncharted waters for him. He played in 2012 the qualifier, falling in straight sets, 7-6, 6-1 to Romania’s Catalin-Ionut Gard.

Spir feels that this time around he’s a different player, having benefitted from his senior season at Georgia Tech, which saw him go 21-16 (12-10 in dual matches and 8-2 in the ACC), while playing primarily at No. 1. He also finished with a 28-13 record in doubles, finishing his collegiate career with a school-record 103 doubles wins and reaching the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament with partner Vikram Hundal.

“I’ve been there before but, obviously, a year later, I’ve matured a little bit more, I’ve learned more about my game,” Spir said. “I think as you get more matches in and you get a little bit older, being able to take the leader position on the team, you learn even more. You become more mature. Playing at the top of the lineup also helps a lot, getting that competition with the best players in the nation. So I’m just a little more focused, more calm.”

That focus and calm will come in handy as he prepares for his first match even though he didn’t find out his opponent or even what time he played until the Tournament held its qualifying draw at 9:30 Friday night.

That left him just enough time to do some Internet research.

“It really doesn’t matter,” he said. “In college the lineups shift all the time. They change your opponent at the last minute. So you just go and play your game and find your other player’s weaknesses.”

Regardless of his opponent, Spir has plenty of incentive in representing himself and Georgia Tech.

He will be the third Yellow Jacket to play in the Tournament, joining Guillermo Gomez, who played singles in 2011, and his former doubles partner Kevin King, who played singles and doubles in ’11 and ’12. King is the only Yellow Jacket to record a victory in the qualifiers, beating the University of Georgia’s Wil Spencer last year, 6-4, 6-3. King also had success in doubles, making the main draw both years, teaming with Georgia’s Drake Bernstein in 2011 and pulling off an upset of the top seed, Scott Lipsky and Rajeev Ram. Last year he and UGA’s Ignacio Taboada fell in the first round.

Spir will participate in singles only in the ’13 BB&T and will try to become the first Yellow Jacket to advance to the main draw, while furthering what he feels is the growing reputation of Tech players on the pro tour.

“Getting a spot in the qualifying tournament is just amazing,” he said. “It just makes a statement that Tournament Directors are looking at Georgia Tech players and they’re considering us for spots in the qualifying rounds. Hopefully this will keep going on in the following years for players that come to Tech. I’m just really thankful.”

The BB&T will kickoff what should be an exciting end of July and August for Spir. Next week he takes his final couple of tests to complete his degree requirements in International Affairs, then, on July 31st, he heads to his native Colombia with King and former Yellow Jacket Dean O’Brien to play in a month-long series of small pro events as his world of pro tennis opportunities opens.

It all begins with the BB&T.

“I just hopefully take advantage of the opportunity and learn from this experience,” he said. “I feel a little bit more prepared for what’s next, the pro tour.”

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