March 6, 2017
By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
Christopher Eubanks made fast work of his match Sunday, dominating Florida State’s Guy Iradukunda, 6-1, 6-2, before settling into the serious business of being perhaps the loudest Georgia Tech fan at the Ken Byers Tennis Complex.
Parking himself in the front row of the bleachers at court No. 5, where senior Cole Fiegel minutes earlier broke the serve of FSU’s Terrance Whitehurst for a 6-5 lead in the first set and then won his service game, Eubanks got busy again.
“Cole and I both know the guy that he was playing pretty well, and I just wanted to get over there to try to lend him some support and let him know that he had to just continue to play as solid as he was,” Eubanks explained.
The extra pep helped and most everything worked last weekend, as the 12th-ranked Yellow Jackets opened ACC play with a 7-0 win on Friday at Clemson and a 5-2 victory over the No. 33 Seminoles on Sunday.
Fiegel, in fact, clinched the team match, topping Whitehurst, 7-5, 6-4, to make the score 4-1.
Tech (9-2) has a good thing going. After dropping the doubles point Sunday, which they were none too happy about, the Jackets dug in against the Seminoles (9-4). Psychologically, it can’t help but help when after falling behind, a teammate quickly puts a point on the board to even the score, like Eubanks did.
“To get a road win, at Clemson . . . we did a good job of scrapping through the doubles point,” said head coach Kenny Thorne. “I told somebody, `Man, I’m glad we won the doubles point, but it would have been nice to see how we would’ve reacted had we lost the doubles point,’ because you know that’s going to happen.
“And, it happened [Sunday] against a tough team and then we won five of six first sets [in singles]. To me, it showed the resolve of this team all the way up and down the lineup.”
After falling behind, the Jackets steadily ground the Seminoles down.
The seventh-ranked Eubanks had no problems with No. 84 Iradukunda, and on court No. 2 sophomore Andrew Li, ranked No. 53, went similarly about his work against No. 94 Aziz Dougaz with a back story in play.
Dougaz had been playing chiefly at No. 1 singles, yet having beaten Li once last spring and again last fall, he dropped a spot to face him once more.
“I said, `Andrew, they switched it. They think they’re going to get a win here,’ ” Thorne recalled of the pre-match.
Li topped Dougaz 6-4, 6-3 to give the Jackets a 2-1 lead.
“It was really good to see Andrew play a solid match, getting that win,” Thorne said.
Literally one minute later, junior Daniel Yun pushed Tech’s lead to 3-1 with a 6-4, 6-2 win at No. 6 over FSU’s Alex Knaff. Before too long, Fiegel finished off Whitehurst and FSU.
“I think the season could be really special,” Eubanks said. “If we get all the guys clicking at the right time, I think we can do something pretty incredible. I think we still have a lot of work to do, individually as well as kind of getting the doubles pairings right and communicating well when we play . . .
“To come out today and lose the doubles point against FSU, and then show what we can do in the singles lineup was really big for us.”
“I know Carlos Divar lost his match, but I thought he was going to win the whole time,” Thorne said. “We’ve always said even if the team match is finished, every match matters.
“Carlos fighting through a 15-13 breaker, that matters. It really does. It becomes a habit. That’s what you’re looking for; guys who are going to stay in and fight.”
There’s plenty more fighting to come.
The Jackets play at Miami Sunday, then after a two-week break from competition, at No. 3 Wake Forest. The ACC is merciless. Tech will also play at No. 2 Virginia, and host No. 6 North Carolina (the latest rankings come out Tuesday).
A trip to No. 29 Notre Dame is coming, along with home matches against No. 42 Louisville, No. 43 Duke and No. 46 N.C. State — not in this order.
Tech has come to expect success. Their 2-0 start in the ACC doesn’t rank as a surprise.
“I love looking up and down and thinking we’re in every single match every time,” Thorne said. “I’m really confident that these guys can compete at the highest level this season.”