Aug. 16, 2016
BELLEVUE, Wash. – It’s been a few years so you’re not sure what to expect, but soon after seeing Guillermo Gomez again you realize that Georgia Tech’s winningest tennis player is much as he was on The Flats.
He’s not the only former Yellow Jacket around here – Seattle Seahawks radio play-by-play man and local TV news anchor Steve Raible, once a Tech wideout, is rather notable — yet “G” stands out.
From Alicante, Spain, Gomez made quite a run at Tech from 2007-11, with records of 119-38 in singles and 64-41 in doubles to pass his former coach – Kenny Thorne – in career wins along the way.
From afar, they get along better than ever now as he’s in his fourth year working in suburban Seattle at Microsoft’s massive global mother ship.
“I’m in touch with him a lot, and trying to help Georgia Tech in any way,” Gomez said of Thorne. “For me it was very tough to stop playing tennis at Georgia Tech because I loved it . . . This is the coach who really helped me. What I did at Georgia Tech was very good, and I’m happy to have the relationship we have.”
Theirs is a special connection but it wasn’t always fun.
Thorne said of Gomez, “Probably one of the most competitive guys in practice, or a match, whether he was playing No. 1 or not ranked. He just brought that to everything he did. That carried over into the classroom, and you knew he was going to be successful no matter what he did . . . Being as competitive as he was, he was also very stubborn, which can be a great trait for someone who excels. But you can also disagree on things.”
They did, although methods of resolution were one-sided.
Results on the court and in school were tilted as well.
Gomez was a three-time ITA All-American and was named All-ACC four times while making the ACC All-Academic team each year, too. In 2011, he became just the third Tech male to be named ACC player of the year, joining Jens Skjoedt (1990) and Benjamin Cassaigne (1999).
At the time, Guillermo was busy being Guillermo. With the passage of time, and after visit to Tech in the spring, he sees that he was hard-headed.
“When I went to Atlanta, I hung out with him a lot. Kenny and I, we had a very interesting story,” Gomez said. “We were both very intense, and it’s easy to have conflicts at times, but I think we’ve learned a lot.
“It’s easy to have disagreements. It’s normal. I’m a guy that was extremely focused on getting better. I would talk to him, and he was not a coach who did not allow me to talk.”
Gomez wasn’t the first student-athlete at Tech to have opinions. He evolved over time, rising to a rank of No. 3 nationally as a junior.
“He matured over the course of four years,” Thorne said. “I think it’s tough. Anybody who comes from another country and is trying to find his spot, and there was language barrier even though he spoke well. He stuck with it.
“He had to kind of take a back seat at times, which was hard for him, but I’m telling you he grew up and you have to. You’re going to be pushed around. He did a great job of learning how to be humbled and became more of a total person.”
Gomez is still running, but he took on a limp for a while.
He graduated in December 2011 with a degree in Industrial Engineering and returned to Spain to play professionally. Six months later, he tore up a knee.
That changed his path.
“At that moment, I was with my parents because in tennis . . . you’re going to be traveling 90 percent of the time so it’s kind of stupid to lose money on rent,” he said. “The economic situation in Spain wasn’t good. I had to do something to be able to help home and to be able to sustain myself.
“I decided to stop playing, which is probably the biggest hit in my life because I worked my whole life to be a tennis player.”
Having begun the arduous process of applying for a green card while he was still at Tech, Gomez returned to the United States. He moved in with former Tech teammate Miguel Muguruza in Atlanta, began looking for a job and taught tennis lessons on the side.
Not long after tracking down a Microsoft recruiter who earlier had missed Gomez while frequently mining Tech, he sent his first serve into the net.
“I had made it clear in my Tech career that I was going to be a tennis player so I didn’t go to any career fairs,” Gomez explained. “I e-mailed him, and told him . . . I was looking for a job and what I bring to the table. I said, ‘attached is my resume.’
“Funny story: He e-mailed me back and said ‘it’s going to be very difficult to see if you’re a fit because you forgot the resume.’ I remember that I was driving on Spring Street back to Georgia Tech, and I’m at a stoplight, reading the e-mail, and I said, ‘Microsoft is gone. I screwed up. I forgot the e-mail.’ “
It takes two mistakes for a double fault, and Gomez nailed his second serve.
Microsoft hired him in 2013, recently transitioning from the consulting services division to marketing work with the Azure program, Microsoft’s cloud computing platform.
There’s still tennis in there as well. He’s teaching on the side.
Gomez falls homesick from time to time, and envisions one day returning to Spain. He was over-the-moon happy recently when a couple of his best friends from home, Marco Verdasco and Nef Moya, visited him in Bellevue.
“I would love to be able to live in downtown Madrid,” he said. “My goal is to be there with my friends, play some tennis and paddle. I would like to be able to go with my friends on Sundays to watch Real Madrid.”
Thorne isn’t surprised. Gomez is not just competitive. He’s a friendly man with plans.
“G is loyal, a very loyal person. I remember one of his first matches he was playing a fellow countryman. It was him, this guy and Rafael Nadal, big guys from Spain, and this guy came to college,” Thorne said. “Guillermo hit a serve and the guy called it out, and it was out, and Guillermo went off on this guy.
“He said later, ‘I knew it was out; I just wanted to let this guy know I’m not going to take anything.’ He had purpose behind everything he said and did. I’ll tell you, that grit and that fight is something you look for in every recruit.”