Jan. 20, 2015
By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word
On the best day of his still young career, Christopher Eubanks set the tone with a 7-5, 7-5 win over 15th-ranked Nathan Pasha of Georgia, and then had the best seat in the house to watch his Georgia Tech teammates as they took four of seven singles matches and two of three in doubles from the No. 8 Bulldogs.
No, it didn’t count as a dual match win because of the unique round-robin format of the MLK Invitational with Georgia, No. 2 Oklahoma and No. 16 Columbia at the Ken Byers Tennis Complex.
But Monday sure felt good – especially when sophomore Carlos Benito rallied past Georgia’s Ben Wagland, 5-7, 7-5, 7-6 (7-5) in the last match of a four-team round-robin tournament.
“It was a great day, a great day. We showed great heart,” Eubanks said. “Carlos was down a set, and battled back to win the second and third sets. Michael [Kay] was able to battle back after losing the second and third sets.
“We try not to build the match against Georgia up so much, but it’s the last day of the tournament and that’s something that [coach] Kenny [Thorne] emphasized. He said, `It’s the last day. We’ve got to show our heart, show what we can do.’ “
The youngish Yellow Jackets went toe-to-toe with one of the top teams in the nation and more than held their own.
Day one had been tough. The Jackets won two of seven singles matches and one of three doubles matches Saturday against Oklahoma. On Sunday, Tech was stronger with five wins in nine singles matches and one win in four doubles matches against Columbia.
Eubanks fell 6-7, 6-3, 6-1 Saturday to the nation’s No. 14-ranked player, Oklahoma’s Axel Alvarez Llamas, and on Sunday he lost 6-3, 4-6, 7-5 to Columbia’s Dragos Ignat.
Monday was better.
Playing at No. 1 singles, Eubanks said he applied lessons learned earlier against Pasha, a senior and a fellow Atlantan. The counsel of assistant Derek Schwandt also came to bear.
“I’d never played him, just practiced with him. He was always older and a lot better,” Eubanks said. “I used to look up to him. Serving went really well, better than my previous two matches. I was hitting both forehands and backhands, just letting go and following through. Derek and I worked really hard on that.
“Saturday, I played well in first set, won, and then in second set in the big moments I didn’t serve as well. In the third set, [Alvarez] ran away with it. I wasn’t playing with confidence. [Sunday], I was down 5-0 in the third, and I just said, `I need to let go and swing.’ When it got to 5-5, I wasn’t serving as well.
“That all kind of played into [Monday]; I realized that I have to play my match no matter what.”
Benito went 3-0 in singles on the weekend, despite dropping his first set in each match, to move his record for the year to 13-10 with a five-match winning streak. He was 0-4 against Georgia players this school year before beating Wagland.
Since dropping their first two doubles matches last fall, Benito and Sugura – who are both from Madrid, Spain — have gone 8-2.
Against Wagland, Benito trailed 1-3 in the third set. Then, he battled back.
The Jackets and Bulldogs will meet in a traditional dual match Feb. 6, at 5 p.m. in the Ken Byers Tennis Complex. It should be fun. It is not likely to be as tiring as Monday.
“We were not going to go out there with everybody aching, and not play as hard as we could,” Eubanks said. “We were going to show what we’ve got.”