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March 12, 2013

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

Like all freshmen, Nathan Rakitt has had no choice but to adjust with the start of college. There is one set of changes that he is loving.

Team tennis; it’s fantastic.

Rakitt is from Marietta, but he home schooled prior to attending Tech. Unlike fellow freshman Anish Sharma, who played for and graduated from Alpharetta High, this team business is brand spanking new – at least since youth and middle school soccer, baseball and basketball.

The same goes for freshman teammate Garrett Gordon, who like Rakitt graduated from Laurel Spring, an online school based in Ojaj, Calif. Their tennis backgrounds were built on the road, in juniors play, where teams consist of . . . mom and dad.

“With the traveling, it’s pretty different,” he said. “I’d spend a month out in California, three weeks in Florida, school work at various times. But competition-wise, it’s a completely different world.

“In juniors, it’s you, your parents, you play a match, nobody’s really cheering for anybody. They politely clap, but it’s all about you and yourself. If you win, you move on. If you lose, you go home. Tough day.”

That is not like team tennis. The crowds may not be big, although the Jackets figure to have a nice turnout Friday when they kick off their ACC schedule with a match against Florida State at the Ken Byers Tennis Complex, but there’s often a passionate – and loud – group of onlookers. Rakitt said he loves it.

“Absolutely. In the fall, I started adjusting to having all these guys around me even though we weren’t in tournaments; they were individual tournaments,” he said. “Once we got to our first dual match, we played Old Dominion [in January], and you get this rush of adrenaline and everything else goes away.

“There’s just a whole excitement around it. Adrenaline takes over, and all your teammates are out there cheering. The guy on court one is cheering for the guy down on court six, the guys in the middle. It’s a pretty interesting atmosphere.”

Rakitt seems to be solving it.

He and senior Juan Melian lead the team in singles wins with 16 each (Rakitt is 16-10, Melian 16-9), and Rakitt is 13-7 in doubles play.

Beyond the obvious benefit of having practice partners on the court, team tennis affords a sounding board for a player off of it.

“In juniors, everything is very individual-based,” Rakitt said. “You kind of deal with emotions and test scores, girlfriends . . . everything by yourself. When you have your teammates, they might be having the same issues or more and everyone is there.”

The best part is definitely the match atmosphere.

“In college, your coaches and teammates do not allow you to just lose and move on,” he said. “Every single point is a fight. Every teammate is fighting for each other. It’s no longer just about yourself even though it is an individual sport. If you have an extremely tough day, or . . . have a crazing losing streak, nobody thinks differently of you.

“Everyone rallies behind you and sometimes everything comes down to your match. Everyone has the utmost belief in you. We’ve had a couple 3-all matches this year, and it’s pretty interesting how the entire team just everybody pours their heart into you when the match comes down to you.”

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