By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
It seems like just a few days ago that Phillip Gresk and Andrew Li arrived at Georgia Tech, each from far away, and now they’re so close they can hardly believe they’re about to leave.
Well, the senior tennis players are not going to leave just yet because Gresk hopes to graduate in August and Li in December, yet the clock is ticking fast on their college tennis careers.
The No. 49 Yellow Jackets (8-9, 3-5 ACC) will wrap up their home schedule with a Friday match against No. 21 North Carolina State (14-7, 5-2) and Sunday vs. Louisville (14-9, 2-6). Then, there will be matches at No. 22 Notre Dame (11-11, 3-5) and Boston College (4-12, 0-8) as Tech aims to be eligible for the NCAA tournament. That requires a .500 overall record.
It sort of seems like a blur.
“Sometimes you look at it like it’s gone so fast, and sometimes you’re like I’ve been here forever, man,” Gresk said. “It depends on the moment. Tennis-wise, it’s gone by so quick, so it’s kind of a little bit of both. I feel like we just came in yesterday and met each other.”
From Warsaw, Poland, Gresk came to Georgia Tech and became roommates with Li, who traveled from Hong Kong. You might say they were an odd couple.
The academic rigor wore Gresk out immediately, and Li went into a shell. They’ve grown, however, through their Tech experiences.
“I think I’ve gotten more outgoing. My freshman year I didn’t speak much,” Li said. “They thought I really didn’t know how to speak English. I feel like I’ve come a long way just learning how to accept new things.
Gresk took a little longer to get it going. He didn’t play as a freshman while straightening out his path. At Tech, you straighten out, or you go home.
“When I came in, I was just all over the place. I didn’t know what I was doing,” Gresk recalled. “Mentally, I was everywhere. I feel like over the years I kind of settled down, got my priorities straight a little bit more and figured out everything better. I was home-schooled my whole life, so when I came in I was kind of confused.
“I was struggling in classes, getting my teammates mad at me for different reasons, missing classes and going to weights instead. It took me a while to figure out what I should be doing. I feel like I grew up quick.”
Well, not terribly quick.
Gresk didn’t play his freshman season while he sorted himself out.
It probably helped that he and Li were roommates those first two years on The Flats.
They both grew together, and Li had to make adjustments, too.
Tennis, like golf, is different in that many – not all – college players have not played on a team before. Gresk, for example, was home-schooled. Li did the same game in juniors tennis, and he wasn’t sure how to be a great teammate at first.
“When I was traveling playing juniors, I was playing for myself. It’s an individual sport, not a team sport,” Li said. “The biggest thing I learned was how to do well in a team environment. When I first got here, I would get really mad at myself if I lost a match . . . and now if I lose but the team wins, I’m really happy overall.”
It’s interesting that both Tech’s senior men’s tennis players have the same answer when asked about their greatest memory as Tech tennis players.
That happened just a couple weeks ago when the Jackets beat No. 7 North Carolina 4-3 on a Friday night and then beat No. 44 Duke 4-3 on a Sunday afternoon. Both times, freshman Pablo Schelcher won the clinching match.
“We really didn’t expect to win against UNC after losing the doubles point, and we won that one. Duke, same thing two days later,” Gresk said. “Especially beating UNC, we hadn’t beaten a team that highly ranked in my time here.”
Li said, “The UNC match was like our last chance to make NCAAs. We weren’t doing well at that point and we needed some big wins.”
These young men have plans.
Gresk is on track to graduate in August with a degree in Literature, Media and Communications, and he wants to try professional tennis after that. Then, “After I’m done playing, I’ll probably get into coaching and stay around tennis. I’ve been in tennis my whole life and I don’t see myself stopping any time soon.”
Li has lined up an internship this summer with Ernst & Young and hopes to move into the workforce with the Business Administration degree he will take in December.
This is a big weekend for him.
His parents are making the trip from Hong Kong to see him play for the first time as a collegian.
He’s not exactly excited to be wrapping up his college career.
“I’ll probably miss all the talk in the locker room, and some of the things we did, the meals after matches,” Li said. “All the funny stories.”