Dec. 26, 2015
THE FLATS – Prior to the start of the fall season, Georgia Tech tennis player Nathan Rakitt predicted incoming freshman Christopher Eubanks someday would dominate the college tennis world.
One year later, it looks like Rakitt’s prediction may have been UNDERstated, as he failed to include the rest of the tennis world.
It also looks like officials at the United States Tennis Association (USTA) see that kind of potential.
That’s why they recently invited Eubanks to spend a week at their Player Development camp held at the Stubhub Center in Carson, Calif. The camp may have been only one week — the final week of the three-week session — but simply being invited to play and work out with some of the nation’s top American-born college and pro players says a lot about where the 6-foot-7 sophomore stands and, more importantly, where he could stand in the future as far as raising the status of American tennis.
“[The USTA] is absolutely serious about getting American tennis back to the top,” said Georgia Tech men’s tennis coach Kenny Thorne, who went out to California for the week with Eubanks and assisted with the camp. “I think it’s hard to hand-pick who is going to make it, so they’ve tried to reach out to a few more players, and Chris has had some good results. It was a good opportunity for him to go out there and train with some of the best.”
Among the players with whom Eubanks got to train were 26-year-old Steve Johnson, the 32nd-ranked player in the world, 26-year-old Donald Young, the 48th-ranked player, an Atlanta native, and Eubanks’ mentor — he and Eubanks teamed up and advanced to the semifinals of this summer’s BB&T Atlanta Open — and 28-year-old Sam Querrey, currently ranked No. 59.
Eubanks learned of the possibility of attending the camp by USTA Player Development coaches Stephen Amritraj and Brad Stine, whose attention he caught by reaching the semifinals of the USTA/ITA National Indoor Championships in November, the highest finish by an American-born player.
“They asked if I’d be interested and, of course, I said, ‘Definitely!’,” Eubanks recalled. “So they said, ‘Okay, we’ll see if we can set something up.’ Luckily they had an open spot. Just to have the opportunity to come out there and train with a few of the professional guys that were out there, it was very nice of them, and I’m really thankful for that opportunity.”
At first, the most difficult part of the opportunity was making himself believe that he belonged.
“I kind of felt like I wasn’t on the same level, like I wasn’t worthy of it,” he said. “But I figured that they weren’t inviting me out there for no reason. They may have seen something in me that maybe I didn’t see in myself at the time. So I felt like, if they felt I could go out and compete, then I definitely should do that.”
Eubanks went in somewhat prepared as Young kept him in the loop via text as far as what players were there and what was involved in the daily routine. While that helped ease his assimilation, Thorne said the rest was up to Eubanks, as far as 100 percent focus once on the court.
“It’s tough. You get out there, you have to be ready from the first ball struck,” said Thorne. “Sam Querrey is coming back from an injury, and he hits the ball extremely well. Chris was hitting with Sam quite a few mornings. You have to get into the gym beforehand and warm up and be ready to go. It’s just a quality hit every time you’re hitting the ball out there.
“Chris has done it. He hit with Donald a lot, he’s hit during the ATP events, the one here in Atlanta, he’s hit with a lot of the top pros, so he was ready for the pace,” he added. “But just constantly being ready was really mentally good for him. He handled himself fine, but I think he realizes he has some work to do. The idea was to get him outside of his comfort zone and put him into situations that are not quite as familiar and have to settle in. You learn a lot about yourself in those situations.”
Eubanks certainly did and believes he is better prepared to handle this and future off-seasons.
“[The camp] was eye-opening,” he said. “Just being able to go out there and see how those guys conduct themselves in the off-season. I know when I was younger I used to think off-season meant time off. That’s not what it means. It means time to get better and time to devote 100 percent to tennis. To see how different guys go out there and how they go about their business kind of put things in perspective, especially coming back to college.”
Once practice resumes in January, Eubanks is excited to spread his new and even better attitude toward the game to his Yellow Jackets teammates.
“Taking a more professional attitude every time you step on the court I think is the biggest thing I’ll try to take back to the guys,” he said. “Every time we step on the court, realize it’s an opportunity to get better. And if you utilize that opportunity as well as you can and utilize the time that you do have on the court, we can do some really, really incredible things this year.”
While nothing is guaranteed for Eubanks, Thorne feels the ball is in his court as to whether he’s invited back to future USTA camps.
“They’re not going to just invite anybody out there,” he said. “You definitely have to earn it, but they’re always looking for American players, guys coming up, and seeing who they can help. I think they’re starting to look at a lot more college guys. You’re never quite sure who’s going to be that guy that breaks out, so I think it’s a great opportunity.”
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