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#TGW: Act Naturally

July 17, 2014

By Jon Cooper

The Good Word

Sometimes the hardest thing for a young athlete to do is to simply be himself.

That’s the challenge Nathan Rakitt faces on Saturday, when he plays in the Qualifying Round of the BB&T Atlanta Open, which takes place at Atlantic Station beginning Saturday and concluding Sunday, July 27.

For Rakitt, that can be a very big challenge, as he admits he can “get pretty excited pretty quickly for matches.”

“That’s the biggest thing for me, keeping myself relaxed, not getting too hyped up,” he said. “Just really enjoying the moment, enjoying the player’s lounge, the locker room and definitely making sure that I feel like I belong.”

Rakitt got the opportunity to take the court and play in the qualifying round of the tournament, by receiving a wild card invite from the tournament, so getting to play against professionals kind of caught him off-guard.

“Every year, the tournament director of BB&T has been kind enough to give a wild card in qualifying for a player from UGA and one from Georgia Tech,” he explained. “[GT Men’s Tennis Head Coach] Kenny [Thorne] and [Assistant Coach] Derek [Schwandt] and [Volunteer Coach] Brad Horton deliberated and somehow decided that I would be able to represent Georgia Tech in the qualifying event for BB&T. It’s a real honor. Those guys are just another level. So to be able to compete with them and show them what I’ve got and to see where I am and see where I need to improve over these next couple of years to be the best that I can, it will be a nice test and a really cool experience.”

Rakitt has showed that he belongs on same the court with some of the best amateur players in the nation, as last season, he recorded wins over Virginia Tech’s Amerigo Contini, ranked 19th, South Carolina’s Tsvetan Mihov (No. 41), Wake Forest’s Naksim Kan (No. 68), and Clemson’s Domonique Maden (No. 68).

Rakitt won’t learn his opponent or starting time until sometime Friday, but will go into his match unafraid. He knows he won’t be spending his Friday night doing last-minute cramming of scouting reports or scouring the net for video of his foe’s tendencies. He’s more concerned with how he plays.

“You find out that night and you say, ‘Alright, let’s go,’” he said. “You just focus on yourself and focus on what you do well personally and what makes you different on the court. If you try to go out there and try to change your game or try to play differently or play above your level just because you’re playing somebody you’ve seen on TV, nothing good will come out of that. Kenny and I have talked about it a lot, just focusing on what I do well. What made me successful last year was just focusing on what I can do well.”

Rakitt has gotten some intel on what awaits, having spoken with past Yellow Jackets that have competed in the event, including Kevin King, who recently competed in doubles at Wimbledon, and former teammate Juan Spir, who played the event last year and has excelled in his first year on the pro tour.

“They basically said the same thing that Kenny and I talked about. Basically, if you try to play above your level or you try to do anything special then it’s going to go by very, very quickly and not in a good way,” he said. “So just coming down to Earth, playing within yourself, and just doing what you do well and you’ll have best experience possible. At the same time, embrace the moment and the ball kids, the umpire calling your name, the fans. It’s Atlantic Station. It’s a phenomenal venue. You have 75 and 85 just a hundred yards away with cars whizzing by and the skyline in the background. It’s really interesting. So, obviously, play your best and play your own game but enjoy it.”

Nathan has drawn inspiration from the play of King and Spir.

“I’ve made some good strides but there’s obviously a lot farther that I can go,” he said. “To see Kevin do so well, get into Wimbledon, that’s incredible because he was in my shoes just a few years ago. Same thing with Juan Spir. He’s already done incredibly well just out there for really a year now on the tour. They were in my shoes pretty recently. So for them to do so well on the tour, it makes it a bit more realistic.”

Rakitt will get further inspiration and support from his family, which will be coming in from Potomac, Maryland. They’ve proved a good luck charm, as the one time he played in front of them as a Yellow Jacket came on March 29 at No. 25 Wake Forest. He and partner Cole Fiegel were victorious in doubles, and he took out Kan in straight sets in singles, dropping only five games.

He plans to enjoy this tournament but that doesn’t mean he won’t be playing to win or that “he has nothing to lose.” He’s heard the phrase and treats it with mixed emotions.

“Yes, there’s nothing to lose, obviously, I’m the wild card. I’m the local kid. I mean Georgia Tech is so close to Atlantic Station,” he said. “At the same time, I’ve known about having this opportunity since, really, the end of last season. I’ve been preparing mentally and physically for this moment. So I feel like I definitely would have something go lose in the sense that I feel like I belong there. If I lose in two sets, really quickly, I’m not going to be happy with myself, that’s for sure. I expect to be there. I expect to do my best and I expect to play my game, just control what I can control and the results will come.”

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