April 5, 2016
By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
– Nathan Rakitt has gone around his game’s block only to end up lost as a soloist, yet he’s nearing the end of his college tennis career with an all-time grip on racket and routine. The senior is more eager than a campaign candidate, in fact, to wax rhapsodically about his Georgia Tech team experience.
His 10-match winning streak has something to do with that. So, too, does the fact that he launched his career-best run after being benched Feb. 6 against Georgia.
He’s played at the top of the lineup, earning honorable mention All-ACC honors as a sophomore after playing all season at No. 1 and No. 2 singles. He’s playing near the bottom now, where he’s 2-1 at No. 4, 1-1 at No. 5 and 8-0 at No. 6.
“It’s taken me a few years to truly understand the importance of team and how special it is regardless of where you are in the lineup,” Rakitt said last weekend as the No. 31 Jackets (14-5, 7-2 ACC) beat Miami 5-2 and Boston College 6-1.
“I don’t know if many people truly get to understand the way that I have: winning at 1, losing at 1, playing at 6 or not even being in the lineup. We talk every year about how you’re always fighting for the team, but actually getting down into the grit of it … this year has been extremely humbling.”
With 69 career victories, which ranks him among the top 15 players in Tech history, he sounds like a young man fully formed by heat and cold. He’s also lost 66 times.
The Jackets have won 11 of the past 13 matches, though, and Rakitt is relishing what is happening all the more even as he still rues last season. The industrial engineering major began obsessing about the future, and lost aim in 2014-15.
A shoulder injury was only part of the problem when he went from a national ranking of No. 49 to losing 15 of his last 17 matches.
For a while, he paid as much attention to former teammates as his current team.
“I … started putting pressure on myself, [thinking] maybe I could play pro,” he said. “Several guys who had played here – Spir, King, Dean O’Brien – were having some [pro] success, so I started to see myself potentially doing that. I kind of got ahead of myself.”
“You have a good season, and there are expectations. You tell yourself you’re not going to think about them, but they’re there,” Thorne said. “Then, you have a tough time, and you’ve got to live it. It’s like life: until you go through things you don’t truly understand what it means to buy into certain things. He’s totally bought in.
“It’s cool to see people mature. He reacted in the best way possible. He just kept working hard. He did it for a long time, and nothing went well for him, and he kept doing it. And when you go through something like that, then you’re suddenly happy to help the team.”
The Jackets play their final home matches of the regular season Friday against No. 3 Virginia and Sunday against No. 40 Virginia Tech, then play at No. 1 North Carolina next weekend before the ACC Tournament April 21-24 in Cary, N.C.
Rakitt’s parents and younger brother will travel this weekend from Washington, D.C. His older brother dropped by last week. There will be just a few more chances to watch Nathan work alongside his tennis family.
“Just so many memories and so many matches,” he said. “People ask where I play in the lineup, and I love answering that question. I say it with pride … I feel like I’ve been everywhere. I’ve played with the wall on both sides, on court 1 and court 6. I’ve seen it all.
“Last season was brutal. I was joking with [Christopher] Eubanks about it. I don’t even remember half the matches. It just kept snowballing. I might have had a few more articles written about me and my face was posted in more places [in the past], but the team is doing so much better now. It really is like a novel.”