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#STINGDAILY: Learning Process

Dec. 6, 2012

By Jon Cooper
Sting Daily

Kenny Thorne is as knowledgeable as they come on the subject of tennis.

He got that way by being an All-American, a professional with seven titles and wins over four top-10 players, and a successful coach who has been on the job for 14 years.

Yet, Thorne still saw things over the course of the recently completed Fall season that surprised him — pleasantly. Things he didn’t expect while drawing up preseason plans.

Things you can only find out by playing the games.

Perhaps the most pleasant was the birth of two superb doubles teams — Juan Spir and Vikram Hundal and Juan Melian and Nathan Rakitt.

“You’re going to have your ideas of who you think might match well, complement games and personalities and you go through that whole process,” said Thorne. “Then all of a sudden, in the fall, you can change things around in one tournament, things click for people and if they get a few good wins they’re confident and they’re believing in each other. That happened with Vikram and Juan Spir.”

Spir had started the fall playing with sophomore Eduardo Segura and the duo had some success at both the Southern Intercollegiate Championships and the ITA All-American Main Draw. But when Segura was unable to play in the USTA/ITA Southeast Regional in Tallahassee, Hundal stepped in.

And stepped up.

Despite having limited experience as a freshman in doubles (a 4-6 record with Melian and a 3-7 record with Sebastian Lopez), things clicked when paired with Spir. Together they went 8-1, winning the Regional then, after dropping a tough opener in the National Collegiate Indoor Championships in Flushing Meadows, ran the table on the consolation bracket.

“They’ve put themselves in a position of being one of the toughest teams in the nation to beat already,” said Thorne. “You hope for that. It, obviously, doesn’t always happen. But they understand how to play the game and they embraced it. Having that in doubles will also help carry over your confidence in singles. Just playing big points well, embracing some of the bigger points of your matches and getting good in those situations. That’s what you want.”

That confidence was evident, as Spir, the team captain, finished the fall 10-3 in doubles and 8-3 in singles, 4-1 after the change. Hundal went 10-2 overall in doubles, 4-2 in singles.

The success of Melian and freshman Nathan Rakitt was a case of good match-making by Thorne. They played were 4-2 as a team and the two losses both came at 6-8. Rakitt also was superb in singles, going 9-3, including a five-match win streak as he sweept through the consolation bracket at the USTA/ITA Southeast Regional.

“I think Nathan Rakitt stood out,” said Thorne. “He’s got a big game and just believing in it and doing what he can do. I felt like he had some very good wins in the fall. So I expect him to pick up in January and really help us. Him and Juan Melian were a solid doubles team. I think they can do well for us as well in doubles.”

Melian’s 6-3 record belied some of the leadership by example that he showed during the fall.

“Juan really relaxed into his game this fall,” Thorne said. “He started playing some of the best tennis I’ve seen him play.”

Relaxing was a key to freshmen Anish Sharma’s fall, which was better than his record (3-6, 0-3 in doubles) indicated.

“He might have been a little intimidated at the beginning of the fall,” said Thorne. “He started to settle in to who he is as a college tennis player, not a junior tennis player and got stronger.”

Segura and fellow sophomore Colin Edwards and freshman Garrett Gordon will look to get stronger and get their games back up to speed in tournaments during the Christmas break.

“Colin got injured and that was a tough one,” said Thorne. “It’s been difficult, but he’s grown a lot as a person. He served our team. He came out and was helping out in every way he could even though he wasn’t healthy and that’s what we look for. So we expect him to be healthy and get back. His key to will be playing in some tournaments over the break. That’s going to be his fall season. He’s going to have to get that done on his own.”

The same holds true for Gordon.

“Garrett unfortunately had too many injuries in the fall,” said Thorne. “He’s going to have to make it happen over the break and hopefully get tournaments in so that we can assess where he’s at at the beginning of January.”

Segura also will look to sharpen his skills during the off-season.

“Eddie I think matured,” said Thorne. “We’re looking for him to continue to step up. He’s had the talent. He’s one of these guys that has great hands and has been a player that’s had some good wins and then some tough losses. We’re looking for consistency out of him. I know he’s planning on playing in tournaments over Christmas, so we’re looking for him to continue in that process going into January.”

Come January, players and coaches alike will have something to look forward to. On Jan. 18, the Yellow Jackets host Old Dominion and Lipscomb in their inaugural match at the brand new Ken Byers Tennis Complex.

“It’s an honor to be coaching here at this time and it’s an honor for all of our student-athletes to be able to be opening a new facility,” Thorne said. “That doesn’t happen too often in any sport. I want to give special thanks to Ken Byers and all the donors that made it possible.

“We can’t wait to get going in there. It’s going to be exciting,” he added. “It’s going to be a fun and exciting year. To start it off, we’ll have a nice grand opening before the women’s tennis match (they will host Syracuse on Jan. 17). We want to get as many people out there as we can. It’s going to be a special time.”

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