Jan. 21, 2015
By Jon Cooper
The Good Word
Georgia Tech women’s tennis coach Rodney Harmon was very specific about what he wanted his players to work on during Christmas break.
He was less so about how long and how often they should do so and certainly had no idea, that freshman Alexis Prokopuik would take Christmas break literally.
“I think the only day she took off was Christmas day,” said Harmon, with a laugh. “Other than that she played every single day.
“She worked very hard over the break and came back in phenomenal physical condition,” he added. “She worked on her game with her coach and she came back ready to play.”
The native of Vancouver, British Columbia, neither confirmed nor denied taking more than one off-day during the break, but did admit she played a lot of tennis.
“Over the Christmas Break I just tried to keep after it and make sure I was ready coming back into the season,” she said, with a laugh when told of her coach’s remarks. “I’m a pretty hard worker and am really determined. Over the break I just wanted to make sure that coming back I’m ready to go. I didn’t want to let anybody down or let myself down because I know what I can do for this team.”
The former U-16 Canadian National Champion and member of the Canadian Junior Fed Cup Team, showed it last weekend at the Mal Moore Invitational played at the Roberta Alison Baumgardner Tennis Facility on the campus of the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, going 2-for-2 in singles — she was up a set in her other match — dropping a total of eight games in the five sets.
“Her play the first day was good and she sustained it every day,” said Harmon. “She’s played very, very well at practice since we started January 5. It’s just been a continuation of how she’s played. We had practice [Tuesday] morning at 7:00 and she was still playing well. So she’s definitely on the upswing.”
“She’s just a tremendous worker,” he added. “When you’re a worker and you put the extra time and attention to detail in, then you’re typically going to get the reward for it. She’s put in the extra effort to make sure she’s ready to play and it’s definitely showing up in her game.”
It’s showing up singles AND doubles, as she was 2-1 last weekend.
Her ability to adapt also was at the forefront, as she played the three doubles matches with three different partners. She won with Kendal Woodard, half of one of the best doubles teams in the nation (Woodard usually pairs with Megan Kurey) as well as with Rasheeda McAdoo. The only time she tasted defeat last weekend was with Alexa Anton-Ohlmeyer, her partner throughout the fall, when they went 6-2, and currently the nation’s 28th ranked team.
Harmon has had to juggle his teams because of injuries but believes he’s found a nice team with Prokopuik and McAdoo, who impressed in winning their Sunday match and will play together again this weekend.
Prokopuik is eager to play with the powerful sophomore again.
“[McAdoo] has a huge serve. I think she’s one of the biggest arms in America right now in college tennis,” she said. “I’m going to set her up the best I can so she can put those overheads away and we can make the points go quick because doubles is a quick game. It’s over fast. I think we’ll do awesome.”
Of course, Harmon is confident he can plug Prokopuik in with anyone.
“She plays extremely well because she makes a lot of returns and she’s got a really, really big forehand. She can rip it at somebody or she can dip it at their feet or she can top-spin lob,” he said. “But what she does is she puts the ball in play, so there’s not a lot of free points being given up on her side of the court. She hustles extremely well, she runs a lot of balls down and then she also lobs extremely well. So she gets out of trouble with lobs. The last thing she does very well is she covers the net extremely well.”
Harmon feels the Mal Moore Invitational was a good way for the team to shake off the rust of the winter break.
“Overall it was a really good opportunity for us to get matches in in preparation for this weekend,” he said. “They all understand the purpose is to try to win matches but you’re also trying to shake off rust because you haven’t played a match, in a lot of cases, since October or November. You’re not going to probably play as complete as you want to play. You’re going to make some errors and have shot-selection issues. But by the last day I thought we did a good job.”
Of the freshmen that saw action, Prokopuik, Paige Hourigan, and Johnnise Renaud combined to go 6-3 in singles, while their teams went 6-3 in doubles. The experience bodes well for the Jackets, as they prepare to host No. 19 Oklahoma State, No. 29 Texas Tech and No. 38 Columbia at this weekend’s NCAA Kickoff Weekend at the Ken Byers Tennis Complex.
The Jackets will take on the Lions in the tournament opener beginning Saturday at 10:00 a.m. If they win, they’d meet the winner of Oklahoma State and Texas Tech at 2:00 on Sunday. The consolation match is at 10:00 a.m. Sunday.
Harmon is sure his team will be up to this weekend’s challenge.
“The three teams that are coming in are really, really good,” he said. “Columbia has a great team, top to bottom. They’re really good indoors. They have some excellent players, so it’s going to be a very difficult match for us.
“You like to play as many good teams as you can,” he added. “We got to play three really good teams [last weekend]. We have great depth. So every player was able to get quality matches while we were there. It was a great event for us. We should be ready to go on Saturday.”
Prokopuik can’t wait to take the court at the Byers Complex.
“I’m really excited because it’s the official start of the season and we had such a good run up to this event,” she said. “Having it at home, on our courts, where we train every day is awesome. We’re going to have a great crowd and the energy’s going to be great. So we’re going to have fun and do our best and get out there and win some matches.
“I think [the Moore Invitational] was a great confidence-booster,” she added. “We wanted to do our best and prepare ourselves mentally and physically for what’s to come this weekend and we pretty much completed it. So we feel good as a team.”