May 21, 2013
By Jon Cooper
College seniors know that a resume can never be too full and it’s never too late to add on to it.
For an athlete, especially one at the top of his craft like tennis player Juan Spir, the NCAA Tournament offers one last chance to add on. Spir will get that opportunity beginning today when the NCAA Tournament kicks off at the Khan Outdoor Tennis Complex/Atkins Tennis Center in Urbana, Ill., on the campus of the University of Illinois.
Spir actually will get two chances, as he’s entered in the singles draw and will team with sophomore Vikram Hundal in doubles.
He’s aiming very high in both.
“The expectations are always high when it comes to the NCAA Tournament you always have high expectations,” said the Medellin, Colombia, native, who ranks 44th in the nation. “I finished the year very well. The last 10 matches or so I reached the level where I wanted to be.”
Spir has good reason to exude confidence, as he tied fellow senior Juan Melian for the team lead with 21 wins (he has a 75-52 career singles record, a .590 winning percentage) and was 8-2 in ACC play. Down the stretch he knocked off four consecutive ranked opponents, including No. 1 Alex Domijan of Virginia, whom he topped 6-4, 6-1 on April 13 at the Ken Byers Tennis Complex.
While Spir likes his chances in singles, he really likes his chances in doubles, where he’s one half of the nation’s 10th-ranked team, with sophomore Vikram Hundal. Spir and Hundal were 7-4 in dual matches and are 11-1 in tournament play. Hundal suffered an injury that forced him to miss some action during the outdoor season, but Spir is confident that now that his partner is back to health, they can get healthy despite a very powerful doubles draw.
“We just have to get back that feel that we had in the beginning,” Spir said. “I know we’re one of the top teams in the nation and one of the favorites to win the title. We just have to play well, play strong and give it our all.”
The pair showed early in the season that they could beat the best, as they toppled the nation’s top-ranked doubles team, Daniel Cochrane and Andreas Mies of Auburn, in convincing fashion, 8-3, back on Feb. 24 at the Yarbrough Tennis Center in Auburn. With such a statement win under their belts and their growing experience in big events — the team reached USTA/ITA National Collegiate Indoor Championships and won the consolation draw, edging Virginia’s team of Domijan and Harrison Richmond, in a tiebreaker, 9-8 — Spir believes the team’s confidence is soaring.
“We come here with the highest expectations,” he said. “It’s probably the toughest tournament of the whole year. I feel that every match is a final. Every team here is prepared well enough to be No. 1 or to win the Tournament.
“Those wins have helped you realize that it’s possible, that the level is there,” he added. “Those wins, give a lot of confidence and motivate you to keep working.”
Spir has plenty of positive experiences upon which to draw, as he enters the NCAAs having won a school-record 101 doubles matches and he’s made the national collegiate indoors each of the last two years — last year with Hundal, the year before that with Kevin King as part of the nation’s fourth-ranked team.
Success in the NCAAs would make a nice career cap for Spir, who was named All-ACC for the third straight year, putting him alongside such Georgia Tech elites as his coach, Kenny Thorne, longtime Tech Women’s Team coach and current University of Florida Men’s head coach Bryan Shelton, King and former teammate Guillermo Gomez, Roger Anderson, Benjamin Cassaigne, B.J. Traub and Jens Skjoedt.
“It’s quite an accomplishment,” he said. “There are some great players up there. It means something to me and it’s a good way to leave school.
“It’s something at some point you’ll talk about it,” he added. “But right now, I want to get some more accomplishments in the NCAA Tournament.”
An NCAA Championship, or two, would make a nice final touch to his resume.
“I’m very excited for what’s next but I’m obviously very excited about finishing strong,” he said. “I would like to finish on a high note and leave Georgia Tech and the NCAA Tournament the best way possible. It will be the last tournament of my college career so I have mixed emotions.”