Women’s tennis looks to stay hot at this weekend’s ITA Indoor Championships
By Jon Cooper
The Good Word
Coaches try to impress upon their teams “You practice as you play.”
Georgia Tech women’s tennis coach Rodney Harmon is no exception but actually has had the opposite problem so far this season.
His team has practiced so well that he’d like his team to play as they’ve practiced. He made that clear heading into Sunday’s match against Tennessee.
“I think we’ve played a high enough level and some people have played pretty well that it’s allowed us to be successful against some pretty good teams but we haven’t yet played in ANY of our matches as well as we’ve played in practice,” said Harmon. “That’s what I’m really waiting on, where our practice and our match play sync up.”
Harmon’s wait appears to have ended Sunday, when his team moved to 5-0 following a 7-0 rout of the previously unbeaten Volunteers at the Ken Byers Tennis Complex. He’s hoping this weekend will be a perfect follow-up, as the Jackets travel to New Haven, Conn., to participate in the ITA National Team Indoor Championships at Cullman-Heyman Tennis Center on the campus of Yale University. The tournament kicks off Friday.
It’s scary to think how much better the Jackets can get as their shutout of UT was their third of the season. Only one opponent has earned as many as two points off the Jackets in any match. That was No. 24 UCLA, on Jan. 29.
Tech’s 4-2 win clinched the Jackets’ ticket to New Haven and may have been a coming of age for the young team, as two of the wins in singles and the tying win in a 2-1 doubles decision came via freshmen.
“She came up huge in that match and she’s been very, very tough in singles,” said Harmon. “I’m impressed with the level she’s played. She has one of the biggest forehands in college tennis and she competes really hard. She has good composure. So it’s been impressive.”
“I told them I was so proud of my little freshies because they were able to go out and not be afraid to play,” said junior Johnnise Renaud. “They were able to go out and play their game and do what they had to do.”
Harmon is counting on Gizdova to continue to get it done. She heads to Yale 4-0 with one unfinished (she was up 7-5, 2-1 against Penn) in singles and 2-2 in doubles with Otsuka, and has a pair of character-building three-set wins upon which to build — winning 6-2, 5-7, 6-3 against the Bruins then 1-6, 6-3, 10-8 against the Vols.
“I think the biggest thing for her (against UCLA) was that she won the first set and was up in the second and the opponent made some adjustments and won the second set. Then she was able to make another adjustment to get up in the third,” Harmon said. “When you’re playing good players, if you’re winning they’re going to make some adjustments and YOU have to make adjustments. So it’s adjustments back and forth. I was happy to see her make the adjustments that were necessary to be successful.”
Harmon has also been quite pleased with the play of Renaud, who sat out the fall due to injury. She is 4-1 in singles and 4-0 (they did not finish against Tennessee, but were up 6-5) in doubles with partner Rasheeda McAdoo.
“I think she’s gotten off to a good start,” he said. “It was a little rocky for her out in Oregon because she didn’t play the whole first semester basically — she played okay against Portland, she didn’t play as well against Oregon — but she’s starting to play better. I thought that she played really well [at Kick-Off Weekend]. They beat two ranked teams in doubles and then she won a big match for us, a BIG match that we needed her to win against UCLA.
“I think her best, is, obviously, yet to come,” he added. “She definitely can play better. At the end of last year she was playing at a really, really, really high level. We’re hoping that she can methodically get back to playing at that level again, soon.”
It’s been a tough but satisfying road back for Renaud.
“The hardest part was during the fall. I wasn’t practicing as much as I should have,” said the North Miami, Fla., native. “So it sort of was just slow in the beginning. But after a lot of practice and a lot of focus during practice, everything just kind of comes back to you. I feel like now I am at 100 percent. So I’m ready to go for the rest of the season.”
Renaud was named ACC Player of the Week Jan. 23-29, after going 4-0 in Georgia Tech’s wins on ITA Kick-Off Weekend against Penn and UCLA, with she and McAdoo beating a pair of ranked teams in Penn’s top team of Kana Daniel and Ashley Zhu, the nation’s 20th-ranked team, then UCLA’s No. 1, Jada Hart and Ena Shibahara, the No. 9 pairing in the country.
“It is nice to be awarded that honor but it wasn’t expected,” said Renaud, with a laugh.
That’s different than the success she and McAdoo have had.
“I know that we sort of hold a good reputation that we can go out and win most of the matches,” she said. “Not many teams can beat us at our best, so it’s expected.
“With me and Rasheeda being the only team that has played in other seasons, it’s kind of good to be the ones to lead the group and be the ones to stand up and show that we’ve done it before,” she added. “I just enjoy playing with her.”
Harmon would like to see his No. 1 doubles team regain last year’s form, when they went 26-5, 20-4 in dual matches.
“They won a ton of matches. Hopefully that will continue,” he said. “When they’re serving well they’re very difficult to break. Rasheeda’s really athletic and covers a lot of court and Johnnise hits the ball pretty hard. When they play well they’re good.”
The rest of the team has followed their top team’s lead. That means Harmon won’t be leaning on No. 1 as heavily as past teams may have.
“They’re reliable but I think this year our two and three are really good, too,” he said. “Our two is really good because Paige (Hourigan) is playing with one of our freshmen, Kenya Jones. So I think we’re more balanced at one, two and three. It gives us a shot to win at all three spots. So I feel pretty good about the way we’re set up and we’re a YOUNG team — we have four freshmen playing. I think we’ll probably play our best tennis, hopefully in March, April and May.”
Of course, starting Friday would be fine, too.