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#TGW: First Serve

By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word

      College tennis is different in that a match might be scheduled outdoors only to be rained in – yes, in — like when No. 31 Georgia Tech moved indoors to play No. 22 Florida State Friday while it rained like somebody popped an ocean bubble over Atlanta.

Just another change in a season full of them, not that juniors Kenya Jones and Nadia Gizdova have been thrown off stride.

The rain was hardly anything new, nor was another change to the Yellow Jackets’ lineup.

Freshman Jeanette Lin returned to play singles after missing Tech’s first five ACC matches with soreness in her surgically-repaired elbow, yet she didn’t re-join Jones for doubles.

Jones has been just fine playing doubles with Gizdova, as they won all five times before their match was suspended Friday once FSU won on court Nos. 1 and 2.

“I would say it hasn’t been that hard for me in doubles. I’ve played with Nadia before in the past when somebody else got hurt, so I would say it wasn’t that hard a transition because we’re already really good friends,” Jones said. “We came in as freshmen together, so we kind of know each other’s game styles.”

Tech’s roster has churned and churned. Junior Nami Otsuka didn’t play at all in the fall while recovering from multiple injuries, and Lin got in just two matches.

Illnesses and injuries have marked the spring.

Freshman Dalila Said was playing at No. 4 singles in the dual match opener when she tore an ACL. She had surgery a month ago, and may not play until next year.

Lin was playing at No. 2 singles when her elbow just became too uncomfortable at Georgia, knocking her out for nearly a month.

“We’ve never had very many injuries, and this year we’ve had a boatload. We never lost anybody for a whole season before,” said head coach Rodney Harmon. “The good thing is it was early so you got adjusted to it, but it was still difficult because she was playing four and No. 1 and No. 2 doubles so not having her in the lineup was painful.”

The Jackets reached the NCAA semifinals last season, but came into this campaign much changed. Johnnise Renaud and Paige Hourigan graduated, and freshman Ida Jarlskog transferred.

Freshman Gia Cohen didn’t join the program until the spring semester, and she’s had little choice but to play. With Said and Lin out, the Jackets had the minimum six players available.

“It’s definitely difficult, but it’s just an adjustment,” Gizdova said. “I think everyone should be ready to go at any time to play any position. Someone’s going to get hurt and someone’s going to get sick, so we’re all going to need to be on top of our games.”

Jones did not so simply dismiss the effect of injuries.

“For singles, I would say it definitely kind of messes with our heads a little bit but I think the team is doing a really good job staying strong,” she said.

It’s going to take strength to stay strong in the ACC alongside No. 1 North Carolina, No. 3 Duke, No. 12 N.C. State, No. 15 Wake Forest, No. 22 Florida State, No. 24 Virginia and No. 27 Miami.

The Jackets won’t have to wait long to see another top team. They’ll play at Miami Sunday.

“We need to get Jeanette healthy because the ACC is the No. 1 conference in the country in tennis,” Harmon said. “If you don’t have your main team ready, you can’t beat the best teams.”

The coach hasn’t been able to predict who’ll be able to play, but at least he had a good feeling when he paired Gizdova and Jones.

“They’ve played well. They’ve done a really good job,” he said. “You think it would work. You know that they’re friends . . . They know kind of what you have to do, but you don’t know until they get out there and play.”

Maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise that Jones and Gizdova have worked so well together.

As Nadia said, “In doubles I think we really complement each other in some areas, like from the back she can be really aggressive and I’ve been moving a lot at the net. And when I serve or hit forehands from the back she can look to move. It’s been working really well.”

Jones agrees, saying, “Some people you just click better with, some you don’t. Doubles is all about being able to set your partner up. Playing with somebody who just knows you . . . you get into a routine. You know what they’re thinking. You can anticipate what they’re going to do.”


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