Jan. 4, 2017
By Matt Winklejohn | The Good Word –
Christopher Eubanks, Cole Fiegel and their teammates haven’t played tennis for Georgia Tech for a couple months, yet when they return to practice next week with head coach Kenny Thorne they won’t be starting from scratch as they gear up for the all-important spring dual match season.
They’ve been practicing as much or more than ever recently and even playing in professional tournaments here, there, in Spain, Hong Kong and Florida.
When Fiegel finished final exams Dec. 13, he could hardly wait to get home to Alachua, Fla., to practice with childhood friends for a few days. He was just as excited about traveling to south Florida for a week to practice with more competition and play in a tournament before returning to Atlanta on Dec. 30 to practice – unofficially – with Tech teammates.
The holiday agenda: tennis, tennis and more tennis.
“Winter break is really when you can spend a lot of time on the court,” said the senior left-hander. “Practice two times a day, basically, the whole way through, taking Christmas off because once the season starts we play so many matches and our bodies get banged up . . . where you can’t physically practice as much.
“You don’t have school. Not having classes is huge for practice. It’s like a dream where you can practice as much as you want.”
The Yellow Jackets played a busy fall schedule, fanning out to several tournaments, often scattering among different sites on the same dates.
Tech players were 69-57 in singles matches, and 26-20 in doubles.
Thorne and assistant coach Derek Schwandt will be looking for more in the spring season, which begins at home Jan. 14-16 when Georgia, Columbia and Illinois will visit the Ken Byers Tennis Complex for the MLK Invitational, a round-robin tournament.
“I felt like halfway through the fall we weren’t getting done what we needed to do,” Thorne said. “We had a little bit of a lack of urgency. That conversation was had, and a few of the guys woke up. We have such a tough schedule this spring. That conversation didn’t need to be this week, it needed to be back in the fall.”
Spring is different, where most competition will be dual matches and the team will stay together.
Eubanks, who had an especially busy summer and fall as one of the top-ranked players in the nation, didn’t go anywhere over his break.
Last year, he went to Carson, Calif., over break to practice with the USTA intercollegiate staff and players.
Since June, he’s played in Tulsa three times, been to a U.S. Davis Cup training in Portland, played as an amateur in pro tournaments in Illinois and Atlanta, made two trips to New York (one to play in US Open qualifying), played at the Oracle ITA Masters in Malibu and then in France.
He put together a fall collegiate record of 7-3 in singles, and 1-1 in doubles, and that’s not even counting a 2-0 singles record and 1-1 doubles mark when he helped beat Russia 4-1 in the finals of the Master ‘U BNP Paribas in Marco-En-Barouel, France, Dec. 4 as a member of Team USA.
“I decided to stay in Atlanta because I’ve been living out of a suitcase for a while, and it’s kind of nice to be home for a little bit,” said the Atlanta native. “It’s been kind of ripping and running all fall. To finally be home feels really good.”
Fiegel (9-7, 7-2) joined that group last week.
Eubanks added spice to practices with the addition of older friends who play professionally, like Donald Young of Atlanta, former Virginia star and national champion Jarmere Jenkins of College Park and former Georgia standout Nathan Pasha of Atlanta.
“I always say this is my favorite time of the year just because it’s literally just training,” Eubanks said. “This is strictly training. You’re a student-athlete without the student part. When the guys start to come back, it will be everyone mixing together . . . When we have different game styles, it makes it more interesting.”
The Jackets’ plans were diverse over break.
Senior Carlos Benito (6-7, 4-4) practiced with childhood partners at home in Madrid, Spain.
Sophomore Andrew Li (8-5, 7-4) went home to Hong Kong, where the plan was to workout with the national federation and play in as many as three ATP Futures tournaments. He won his last five matches for Tech in the fall.
Sophomore Phillip Gresk (6-9, 6-4), who grew up in Orlando and Warsaw, Poland, played a tournament in Orlando.
Tech’s roster grew over break.
Carlos Divar of Vitoria, Spain, arrived in Atlanta on Monday for his first visit to The Flats. Thorne, Eubanks and Fiegel expect the freshman to contribute this spring. First, he has to learn the ropes.
“Cole’s out there showing him around, getting him to the bank tomorrow, taking him to Publix tonight to get some food,” Thorne said Monday. “It’s really a cool thing to have an upper classman asking what he can do to help. I love that.”
The Jackets will have just a few days of official practices before the MLK Invitational, and then they’ll be off and running with dual matches vs. Georgia on Jan. 20, Tennessee on Jan. 22 and against Stanford on Jan. 28 in Evanston, Ill. Northwestern will play Memphis the same day, with winners and losers matching up on Jan. 29.