June 14, 2017
The Good Word | Jon Cooper
Christopher Eubanks felt he had more tennis in him when his spring ended in the NCAA Tournament quarterfinals.
Even if it was the furthest a Yellow Jacket had reached in the NCAAs since Bryan Shelton got there in 1988, it wasn’t far enough for Eubanks, who wished he could play on.
“I’m just kind of disappointed with how it ended,” he admitted. “But it’s a learning process and it’s just continuing to do the right things. That’s the main goal and just to continue to get better and continue to progress as a person and as a player and I feel things will continue to go well. I’ve been training a lot just kind of getting ready for these tournaments coming up. Hopefully I can do well in those.”
Eubanks plans to show the tennis world it needs to be careful what he asks for.
The centerpiece of the summer will be the BB&T Atlanta Open, taking place July 22-30 at Atlantic Station. It’ll be Eubanks’ third BB&T, but the first where he’ll be concentrating solely on singles. He’s counting on the third time being the charm after a first-round elimination in 2015, then reaching the quarters last year.
“Each year that I’ve played I’ve done way better so I’m hoping that I can continue that trend,” he said. “To be able to win matches on stadium court in front of the fans and the atmosphere made me feel a lot more comfortable. Hopefully this year that confidence will stay. I won’t put a lot of pressure on myself to ‘I have to try to do well.’ As long as I can continue do well, continue that upward progression of just playing well in my hometown, things can go really well.”
Georgia Tech head coach Kenny Thorne believes that Eubanks is well-equipped to go into the event.
“I think just emotionally showing up for the match he’ll probably be a little bit more settled than in the past,” Thorne said. “But you’re talking about a level of tennis that’s the highest in the world so being in that situation he can be totally emotionally ready and mentally ready but he’s going to have to play well. He’s going to have to convert, he’s going to have to play some of his best tennis to compete. He’s shown in the past that he can compete here. So it should be a fun time.
“That’s the thing about the tour,” he added. “You need to be ready to play every point as strong as you can and then you’ve got to make sure you make slight adjustments when you need to but out there you can’t afford to give anything away. So it’s the best.”
In three years on the Flats, Eubanks has proved he’s one of the best ever to represent Georgia Tech. His 90 wins tie him for fifth all-time with Roger Anderson (2000-03), and he’ll begin the year 29 wins away from tying the school’s all-time leader Guillermo Gomez (2008-11). He’s also only 11 wins from tying Shelton and 22 from tying Thorne, a teammate of Shelton in ‘88 (Thorne reached the second round in that year’s NCAAs) and still a good friend. Eubanks has won 65 over the last two seasons and has never won fewer than 25.
“So is he passing me and Shelton? I’ve got to figure out the matches to take him out of then so he doesn’t do that. We have to do a little management of his schedule,” said Thorne, with a laugh.
“Guillermo Gomez was a great player and did such a phenomenal job of being consistent year in and year out and he also did it at the No. 1 spot,” he added. “So Chris, he’s, obviously, one of the best, if not the best player that’s come through Georgia Tech. His consistency throughout three years, to me, is basically unparalleled. He has done an incredible job of taking the No. 1 spot and the wins have been consistent. That doesn’t happen too often. Bryan Shelton, was, obviously, a great player, is my best friend and did extremely well. But for Chris to come through and do it three years in a row like he’s done it is absolutely incredible. Everybody needs to get out and watch him. He’s an incredible, incredible player.”
A great opportunity to do that will be Tuesday, July 25, when Eubanks will be the marquee performer on BB&T’s College Night.
“This is my first time doing College Night singles and I’m really excited about it,” said Eubanks, who last year played doubles on College Night. “It’s going to be a fun atmosphere, probably something unlike many college players will ever get to see. Hopefully I can have a good showing.”
Of course, he’s really excited about playing the BB&T, period.
“The venue, to me, is one of the best I’ve ever seen,” he said. “Just the fact that everything is so close. Everything is around. You toss the ball up and there are the skyscrapers. You see the BB&T Building standing right above you. I think by far this is one of the best venues I’ve been to. I’ve been to a few around the world and this is up there with some of the best of them.”
That Eubanks would have a favorite place to play besides the Byers Tennis Center, where he hasn’t lost a match since April 19, 2015 (3-6, 6-4, 6-4 to Duke’s Jason Tahir in the Jackets’ 4-3 season-finale win) speaks volumes about the Atlantic Station facilities.
A lot has to do with the atmosphere.
“With me being from Atlanta I have a strong support system around,” he said. “There are so many people that come out to watch and even if I don’t know them they seem to be cheering for me and that gives you a little bit extra confidence. You kind of feel like there’s two against one against the other guy so I think that’s probably the biggest difference. It kind of resembles a really big time college match but a lot bigger stage. So that’s pretty cool.”
While Eubanks is eagerly anticipating BB&T, it’s not the only match he’s playing this summer.
“He’s playing in a few Futures tournaments, maybe a challenger in there as well,” Thorne said. “The goal now is to get him ready and enough points so that he can be ready once he gets out of school to go on the Pro Tour. So we’re hoping that he can pick up quite a few points so he doesn’t start at ground zero. He’s already ranked, I think, around 600 with about six tournaments on, which is good. We’d love to see if he can keep that up and maybe do a little bit better so that when he gets out he’s off and running.”
Off and running described Eubanks on Tuesday, as shortly after speeches by BB&T Atlanta Open organizers, and a brief fun volleying on a mini-court with fans, media members and multi-time BB&T Open wild card qualifier Trent Bryde, he hopped in his car and drove more than 300 miles to the north to Winston-Salem, N.C., to play doubles in the Wake Forest Futures with former Jacket and current Georgia Tech volunteer coach Kevin King.
“They play this afternoon,” said Thorne. “He will get there about 30 minutes before his match against Ryan Shane and Damon Gooch.”
Eubanks and King would spot Shane, a former Virginia Cavalier, and Gooch, a pro from South Africa, the first set, before roaring back to win, 3-6, 6-4, 10-6.
So might King, who played in the BB&T in 2012 and 2013, give Eubanks a doubles partner?
“That would be great. It’d be interesting,” said Thorne.
Chris Eubanks always is.