July 26, 2017
The Good Word | By Jon Cooper
Tuesday night at the main tennis stadium at Atlantic Station fans saw the stuff of which dreams are made.
The Georgia Tech rising senior and Atlanta native, Christopher Eubanks lived out one of his, earning his first ATP Tour win, in his hometown no less, taking out Taylor Fritz, 7-6 (5), 6-4, to kick off College Night at the BB&T Atlanta Open.
“It’s incredible. It was an incredible match, an incredible atmosphere,” said Eubanks, who admitted the dream of playing pro is one he’s fostered since the age of 13. “The entire situation is pretty surreal right now. It’s pretty amazing to think that I just got my first ATP Tour win in my hometown of Atlanta in front of Georgia Tech people. So it was awesome.”
College Night had a definite Georgia Tech feel to it. It started with Eubanks receiving a lift to the match by the Ramblin’ Wreck. The hometown hero arrival was capped off by the pre-match coin flip for first serve, which featured Georgia Tech Basketball Coach Josh Pastner and GT Men’s Tennis Coach Kenny Thorne at center court.
“It was pretty cool to see him out there right before the guys practiced,” Eubanks said. “I was over there a little bit earlier today in the weight room with our strength and conditioning coach and [Pastner] told me that he had practice tonight. So for him to come out before practice — and I know how seriously he takes their practices — for him to come out there and do that for me, I think he gave me a little bit of good luck, so I’ll thank him for that.”
No thanks necessary.
“I wanted to support Chris and anything I can do to help Georgia Tech,” said Pastner, a big tennis fan, who was invited by Thorne. “I’m a big fan of Chris and I know he’s a big supporter of us. So it’s a win-win for everybody.
“We had such unbelievable support during the basketball season. The fans were the whole key,” he added. “Let’s give that positive energy to Chris!”
You could feel that positive energy before the match even started and throughout the hard-fought two-setter.
“It’s great to be here,” said Georgia Tech Director of Athletics Todd Stansbury. “Obviously, I want to watch our guy, Chris Eubanks. Having Josh out here kind of getting things rolling, it’s a fun night at College Night.”
Dressed in a combination of yellow and black — black baseball cap, yellow shirt, black wristband, black shorts, black socks and yellow tennis shoes — Eubanks, the eighth-ranked college player in the nation, felt it and put on an electrifying display of power against the 19-year-old Fritz, the youngest ATP finalist since 2008 (he was runner-up at the Memphis Open) and the 2016 Emirates ATP Star of Tomorrow.
Eubanks’ serve was especially strong. He wasn’t broken all night, winning key back-to-back service games in the first set at love. Holding serve was important for this match.
“That was a big point of emphasis going into it,” he said. “[Tuesday] morning, Kenny and I went out and we did a lot of serve work just to make sure the serve is where it should be. I think we did a pretty good job of that.”
The first big service break came during the first-set tiebreaker, when, up 3-2, Eubanks won consecutive points off Fritz’s serve, building up a 6-2 lead. The eighth point came after a successful challenge by Eubanks, overturning an out call on his shot.
Eubanks played loose in his third BB&T singles opener. He showed how loose he was following point 9 of the tiebreak. After mis-hitting a potential putaway backhand that would have won the set — instead popping it into the BB&T Private Box above the court — he walked back toward the endline laughing, tossing his racket playfully up in the air.
“I think I’ve gotten a lot better managing my nerves playing here. This is my third time in the main draw,” he said. “The nerves are definitely there. I’d be lying if I said they weren’t there but I think I did a really good job of getting off to a good start with my serve and just kind of letting that gave me a little bit of cushion so I could swing free.”
He’d end the set three points later, taking the tiebreaker, 7-5.
In the second set, Eubanks’ power game took over.
In Game 4, down 2-1, he fell behind 0-30 before forcing deuce, then winning the game on back-to-back aces. The next game, he again spotted Fritz 0-30, before putting on a dazzling display of shot-making.
The 6-foot-7 Eubanks blasted a pair of cross-court winners to even the game then, after Fritz missed wide, he blistered a forehand winner for a 3-2 lead, earning the only break of the match.
“I think it definitely changed the momentum. He had a little bit of momentum going for him at that point and I’m just glad I was able to kind of halt it and get the momentum back on my side,” he said. “I hit some really good shots, some shots that I didn’t even really understand how I was able to come up with but I was thankful for them and I was able to move on and continue to hold serve like I had been doing the whole match.”
He’d hold serve the rest of the match, sealing in by winning Game 10.
Eubanks said he got a lift from the crowd prior to what proved to be the final game. As he walked toward that the back baseline off a game break, he looked into the crowd, where, amongst a sea of white and gold, Thorne and good friend and former teammate and mentor Nathan Rakitt were sitting.
“I think that little huddle, right behind the back baseline, really gave me a lot of energy as well as the entire crowd,” he said. “I know those voices so well that when I can hear them they kind of gave me a little bit of a jolt.”
After shaking hands with Fritz, Eubanks gave a double-fist pump at center court to thank the overwhelmingly Georgia Tech-friendly crowd, which saluted him with a standing ovation.
“They, for sure, got me through it because at 40-30 things were really shaky,” he said. “They really gave me the energy I needed, kind of pushed me over the edge. I thanked them out there and I want to thank them again, say, ‘Thanks for giving me all the support.’ I hope they’re out here again on Thursday, when I’m playing again.”
Having knocked off Fritz, Eubanks will now play the more seasoned, 20-year-old Jared Donaldson, the 59th-ranked player in the world in his fourth year on the Tour.
“I know he’s a really good player. He’s another ‘Next Gen’ superstar,” said Eubanks. “It’s going to be a tough match, for sure. He’s a very good returner. He may neutralize my serve a lot more so I really have to be on my ‘A’ game, make sure I make a lot more returns and see what happens.”
Until then, Eubanks will be all business. He didn’t even have plans to celebrate his first professional win.
“I’m going to go get some food then go to sleep and be back training tomorrow,” he said. “It’s all a learning process. I’d like to continue to grow and get better and learn from the wins as well as the losses. I’m hoping that six months from now I’m a much better player than I am right now. I think we’re in a good spot right now and hopefully we can continue to move forward.”