Feb. 13, 2016
By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
Friday was special at Georgia Tech, where the men’s tennis team felt even better than usual to be back at home. The Yellow Jackets took the energy of a bigger-than-usual contingent of student fans to whip Auburn, 6-1.
The 44-ranked Yellow Jackets (4-3) rallied on courts 2 and 3 to win the doubles point on the strength of two tiebreakers, and then powered through singles to set back the 56th-ranked Tigers (4-2).
More students meant more noise, and as Tech’s No. 1 singles pairing of No. 24 Michael and Casey Kay fell 6-3 to No. 60 Marko Krickovic and Edward Nguyen, the Ken Byers Tennis Complex took on a different feel.
The place got a little rowdy. That was fine by sophomore Christopher Eubanks.
He and junior Carlos Benito forced a tiebreaker at No. 2 and then topped Connor Huertas and Brandon Laubser, 7-6 (7-1). At No. 3, senior Nathan Rakitt and freshman Andrew Li forced a tiebreaker and then passed Maxime Hinnisdaels and Olle Thestrup 7-6 (7-4).
The place was jumping as students lent a jolt.
“They know about tennis, and they know what traditional tennis etiquette is, but when we go to other ACC and SEC schools, the fans go crazy,” Eubanks said. “If we can get a little more of that, just a little, [opponents] would not want to come here to play.”
Tech had lost three consecutive road matches to No. 12 UCLA, No. 59 South Carolina and No. 11 Georgia on front of unfriendly crowds. Friday reversed trends.
Junior Cole Fiegel clinched the win at No. 5 singles, snapping a five-match losing streak in the process, and the evening closed with Rakitt stalling a four-match skid by winning a third-set tiebreaker.
Eubanks (18-5) rallied from his first loss of the spring, at Georgia, to top Krickovic, 5-7, 6-4, 1-0 (10-5) at No. 1 singles, and in the process became uncommonly emotional.
Krickovic beefed about a call, and after some discussion with the chair umpire, Eubanks played it out with more than standard animation.
That was a net positive, and so were wins on courts 3, 4, 5 and 6 by Li, Michael Kay, Fiegel and Rakitt.
“Obviously, [Eubanks] has been doing so well and we’ve been depending on him to do it,” said head coach Kenny Thorne. “It’s kind of nice that it happened other ways, and we won down low, the guys took care of business.
“The guys that played well last year . . . finally got over the hump and took it to the end this time.”
Although the crowd thinned after doubles (when free T-shirts were given to students), the energy did not wane.
Players from both squads were fans by the time Rakitt finished off Thestrup, 3-6, 6-1, 7-6 (8-6).
“I think I was more excited about Nathan’s win than he was just because I know how dedicated he is and how much he puts into it,” Eubanks said. “Serving for the match, and then getting broken, and coming back and winning the ‘breaker was beautiful.
“I think we could do a better job of getting the students involved, to try to make it a little more exciting…The home-court advantage for us would be great.”
Perhaps the Jackets can pack the vibe.
Tech will play at home again Sunday against Georgia State and Mercer at noon at 5:30 p.m. before another road stretch. After playing at Tennessee Feb. 28, the Jackets open the ACC with trips to Wake Forest, Duke, Louisville and NC State.
“What a great crowd. It was packed. It was really cool. That helps,” Thorne said. “Everybody plays a little bit better [at home] because of that kind of stuff. The great crowd can help. They were into it, and any time you get that kind of atmosphere it does make it easier on us and we’ll play better.”