By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
It probably will come as no surprise that Kenya Jones and Victoria Flores are roommates and very good friends because when you watch them play tennis together there arises the notion that they are connected. They’re that good.
Nobody gets to be 12-1 in the doubles game, with eight consecutive match wins like Jones and Flores, without something special as a foundation.
Georgia Tech cracked the ITA national rankings a few days ago, moving in at No. 22 after beating Wisconsin and then-No. 13 South Carolina last weekend at South Carolina, and the Yellow Jackets will again put themselves center stage Thursday at 4 p.m. when they play host to No. 3 Georgia at the Ken Byers Tennis Complex. The match is slated to be indoors, as both teams have qualified for the ITA Indoors National Championship and seek to prepare for that.
Doubles are a big deal in college tennis once the dual match season arrives in the spring semester. There are three matches, and the team that wins two of them earns a point toward what becomes a best-of-seven competition. Once doubles are complete, college teams play six singles matches.
Winning the doubles point to start competition is like returning the opening kickoff to midfield in a game of football.
And Jones/Flores have it down pat, “I would say because we’ve been on the team with each other for so long that we kind of know each other’s space,” Jones said. “It’s just being able to read each other.”
It has been a long time.
Jones is a senior from Memphis, and Flores is a junior from Fort Dodge, Iowa. They’ve been together a while, teammates originally in 2017-‘18, when the Jackets went to the national semifinals.
They’re roommates with senior Nami Otsuka, who also was on that team, yet they’re new to each other.
Prior to playing together this season, Jones and Flores competed together once, two years ago, when Jones’ partner as one of the nation’s top-ranked doubles teams was Paige Hourigan. Paige ailed. Flores moved in, and she and Jones upset a top-10 opponent. Maybe that was a sign that something good might come of their coupling. Jones and Hourigan were regularly ranked in the top 10 nationally among doubles teams.
These two are connected.
“It’s chemistry. I think just good energy between us. I think that our relationship in general on and off the court we have each other’s backs, and we know that. The trust is there,” Flores explained. “The passion and motivation to push each other and want to do well. When she’s doing well, it makes me do well.”
There is a technical component to the Jones/Flores combination.
Jones plays the left side, and Flores the right. In tennis, they call those spots on the doubles court “ad” and “deuce.”
There’s a reason for that.
“She plays ad side which is (left). She hits (primarily) on the backhand because her backhand is the best in college tennis; I’ll say it. She has one of the best backhands I’ve ever seen,” Flores said. “We have that good reliability where I know where she’s going and she knows where I’m going. That’s why we also work well together.”
It’s not just whacking balls around.
When a serve is about to be made, there will just about always be – unless maybe there was conversation previously – a player at the net flipping strategy behind her back to the server. It’s in-game strategy.
“Usually they’re doing a hand signal behind their back, and that’s just telling the server to serve here because I’m going to do this on the next ball,” Jones said. “Whenever we’re returning, the person at the net gives the person in the back on where to hit their return and what they’re going to do. It might not be the next ball, but two or three later.”
Nothing is simple about this.
Points typically play out through multiple ball strikes moreso in doubles than in singles.
The deeper a point goes, the more each player’s base strengths tend to be relevant.
“You also have to think about the person at the net. If you think about the person in the back, they’re mainly hitting (their stronger stroke) . . . the opposite stroke when they come to the net,” Jones said. “It works out very well when she’s able to hit that shot because her backhand volley is so good.”
Flores has been hitting all strokes quite nicely.
She’s 12-3 in singles while playing at No. 1, 2 and 3 singles, and is the current ACC women’s player of the week after winning doubles matches with Jones last weekend against Wisconsin and South Carolina and a singles match as well. She’s part of a team.