Oct. 19, 2016
Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
Two new faces join the Georgia Tech men’s tennis team on the courts of the Ken Byers Tennis Complex this season. Chris Yun and Phillip Gresk haven’t been around long, yet a few things are clear about the newcomers.
They come from near and far. Yun prepped at Lassiter High School in Marietta, and Gresk hails from Warsaw, Poland.
Their games are different. Head coach Kenny Thorne suggests that the 6-foot, 155-pound Yun is, “probably the quickest guy on the team.” Gresk, at 6-7, 225, plays with power.
But the two have one thing in common, they’re not really newcomers.
Gresk had his competitive arrival delayed, spending last fall and spring on the sidelines, practicing without competing as the NCAA ruled him ineligible.
Yun’s been around, too, following his older brother, junior Daniel Yun, to The Flats after watching the Yellow Jackets up close and personal for a couple of years.
Yun is proving to be a smooth integrator, leading Tech in wins (5-3) as it heads to Tallahassee today for a tournament of 64 whose winner will qualify for the USTA/ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships, Nov. 3-6 in Flushing, N.Y.
“Christopher Yun has done, I think, very well. He’s beaten some quality players already,” Thorne said. “He’s one of the better athletes on the team . . . and he makes corrections. He’s very coachable, and that’s important when you’re a freshman.
“It’s one thing to be coachable and try some things, but he tries them and trusts them. I think he’ll get better every tournament. He’s been around. He watched us last year and kind of knows what it’s like, but he’s eager. He’s like a sponge.”
Gresk has been around, too.
Gresk’s atypical education and a heightened focus on tennis caught the NCAA’s attention so he sacrificed his first year of college eligibility. That was abundantly unpleasant for a young man who, with the help of his parents, has geared so much of his life around the sport he loves.
Born in Warsaw to a mother from Poland and a father from Wisconsin, Phillip picked up tennis around age six and loved it so much that his parents, Thomas and Magdalena Gresk, picked up and moved to Bradenton, Fla., when Phillip was seven. There, he prepped at the Bollettieri Tennis and Eagleton Ferreira Academies until he was 14.
“My parents moved to Florida for me to play tennis, and then we moved back to Poland because the opportunities were a lot better there,” Gresk said.
Back in Poland, he played a lot of high-level tennis, qualifying for 12 ITF Futures main draws in his final year before entering Tech.
“I didn’t graduate high school on time; I graduated two months late, and I also played too many Futures after high school,” Gresk said of the NCAA’s ruling. “I was devastated for sure. Finding out that I couldn’t play for a year, that was tough, but I got a lot better and hopefully it pays off.”
Thorne’s hoping so. Gresk is 3-4 in singles and 3-0 in doubles with senior Cole Fiegel.
“I think Phillip is still working his way into it after not playing for a full year; that’s not easy,” the coach said. “This week, I’d say he’s had his best practice since he got here. He’s solidifying his identity on the court.
“Hopefully, going down to this tournament he’s going to be playing an aggressive style of game, serve and volley a little bit more, doing some things that are pretty specific that I think he does better than a lot of people.”
The fall season will be over in less than a month, and there is much to be learned by and about the Jackets.
As younger players absorb a vibe in college tennis that is so distinct from that in juniors, there also is more strategy being woven into their sport.
“I didn’t realize how the team atmosphere would change a lot of matches,” Chris Yun said. “We’re all trying to help each other. That’s a lot different than junior tennis because you’re not just playing for yourself anymore.
“Coaches analyze every match, and . . . I’d say the coaches being able to coach on the court is a big difference. You get so zoned into one thing that you almost stop thinking, but in college tennis if we’re struggling with one thing the coaches are able to point it out. As long as we take that information and use it.”
Yun’s off to a fine start.
“After every practice, he’s the one guy in my office saying, ‘What else can I do?’” Thorne said. “You’ve got to kind of limit it to one or two things to make sure he doesn’t get too long a list.”
Gresk took a long road to Tech, first pulled the direction of the Jackets by assistant coach Derek Schwandt.
“Derek reached out to me on Facebook, asking if I was interested in Georgia Tech,” Gresk recalled. “Growing up, I thought I was going to go to Wisconsin because my dad is from Wisconsin, but I came down here for a visit after I visited Wisconsin, and I fell in love with Kenny and the coaches, the whole team.
“We bonded really well together, and I committed one week later.”
Having dabbled in several pro tournaments as an amateur, Gresk is impressed.
“I was playing a lot of junior tournaments and Futures in Europe the past few years, the word was that college tennis was not as strong as professional level,” he said. “But we have six or seven guys who could be playing Challengers, Futures. Every team in college has a few players who could play on that level.”
Junior Christopher Eubanks, who was No. 5 nationally in the ITP preseason rankings, won’t travel to Florida State because he’s already qualified for nationals.
Tech’s other eight players will play, and Thorne, Schwandt and volunteer coach Kevin King are looking as much for attitude as they are for technique. The Jackets are 25-30 collectively in singles this fall, and 11-10 in doubles.
“We need these guys to not just hop down there and be happy that they’re playing close with people; we need some good quality wins,” Thorne said. “We’ve got to find a way to solidify a lineup to where we’re playing critical points well and playing with really solid purpose every single point of the match.”