Feb. 7, 2013
by Jon Cooper, Sting Daily –
Georgia Tech’s dramatic 4-3 victory over Georgia on Feb. 11, 2011 was the kind of victory that can put a program on the map or put it in someone’s heart. (Here is Sting Daily’s coverage of that match to refresh your memory http://www.ramblinwreck.com/sports/m-tennis/spec-rel/021211aaa.html).
That match did just that for freshman Nathan Rakitt, who will don the White and Gold of Georgia Tech this afternoon when he takes the court at the Ken Byers Tennis Complex, in the first meeting in Atlanta between the schools since that match. The Jackets (2-3) and No. 6 Bulldogs (3-1) start it off at 4:00 at the Key Byers Tennis Facility.
“The Georgia Tech-Georgia match two years ago was the first college match that I ever saw, when Dean O’Brien clinched it 7-5 in the third,” said Rakitt, a 19-year-old Marietta native, who admitted he wasn’t really a fan of either school growing up, despite most of his fans rooting for UGA. “After I went to that match a couple of years ago I felt something special about Tech. It was kind of the underdog but a very, very good team, obviously, a very good coaching staff and that kind of sparked my interest with Georgia Tech.”
Rakitt is sparking interest with the way he’s played thus far this season. Slotted at Nos. 4 and 5 singles, he is 4-0 in singles (one match was not finished), including a come-from-behind, three-set thriller (3-6, 6-3, 6-4) in Tech’s last match against South Carolina, accounting for Tech’s only point against the Gamecocks, and has dropped only one set — the first in the match against USC’s Kyle Koch. In doubles he is 3-2, having teaming primarily with junior Juan Melian and fellow freshman Colin Edwards, who filled in while Melian recovered from an ankle injury.
“It’s a great start to the season,” Rakitt said. “Coaches [Kenny] Thorne and Derek Schwandt have really helped me kind of understand my game and what I do well and I’ve had some good match-ups over the last few matches. They’re implementing some of the things I’m working on in practice and hopefully I can keep that going.”
Rakitt is building off a solid fall in which he was 9-4 in singles and was 4-2 in doubles with Melian, who should be his partner against Georgia.
Rakitt, who was comfortable playing with Edwards, has found Melian to be a mentor as well as a partner.
“Juan has obviously got a lot of experience. He came from Georgia Southern, with lots of wins,” he said. “Not only as a tennis player but as a student, he’s one of my roommates this semester. The maturity level is a bit higher and it’s forced me to try to match that every day. Being on the court with him has benefited me in ways both on and off the court.”
The Yellow Jackets are glad to be back home for today’s match. They have dropped their last three matches, all on the road. Being back at the Byers Complex gives an edge against arch-rival and national power Georgia.
The enemy is well-known to Rakitt, who has trained with freshman Austin Smith and played doubles with both redshirt freshman Casey Kay and freshman Nick Wood. He’s looking forward to his first taste of the rivalry, which will turn the friends into bitter foes for a couple of hours.
“I have a lot of respect for them. I hope they have the same for me,” he said. “But as soon as you step on the court it’s business. Whether I play one of them I’m not really sure. But I know I’m going to try to take care of each point that I play no matter who I’m playing.”
It’s a match Rakitt has been anticipating since Feb. 12, 2011.
“Kind of ever since then I’ve had it in the back of my mind,” he said. “You always look forward to certain matches. This one is no different. They’re a tough team, obviously, but they don’t do anything special that we can’t handle. If each one of us does what we do well I think we can make this a good match.”
Maybe even create another program-defining moment.