Jan. 19, 2017
The Good Word | Matt Winklejohn –
Fresh off the “preseason” Georgia Tech’s men’s tennis team is about to dive into the all-important dual match season with nine non-conference meetings before Atlantic Coast Conference action, and the Yellow Jackets will kick off a busy schedule Friday at home with the not-so-small matter of the Bulldogs.
Tech student-athletes have played those from the University of Georgia several times already in the fall and even last weekend in the MLK Invitational at the Ken Byers Tennis Complex, but none of those were dual matches.
All matches to this point have counted on players’ individual records, but not for the team’s mark. That changes against the No. 6-ranked Bulldogs, and continues Sunday at home against Tennessee.
The vibe will be much different for these three doubles matches and six in singles.
“This Friday will be big,” said Tech’s No. 9-ranked junior Christopher Eubanks, whose 10-3 record includes a pair of wins over Georgia’s No. 22-ranked Wayne Montgomery. “It’s big. [Last weekend] didn’t have the same atmosphere. Friday is going to be one of the best atmospheres I’ve played in ever.
“The only thing I can compare it to would maybe be Atlanta (BB&T Open) this past year, or the event in France, Masters U. This event, I think it tops that for me being from Atlanta. Trying to do something really special would make my weekend. It would probably top my Georgia Tech career.”
The Jackets last beat Georgia in a dual match in 2011, when senior Dean O’Brien outlasted his opponent to give Tech a 4-3 win in the old tennis facility. That snapped a 23-year losing streak.
The Bulldogs are loaded as usual.
Where Eubanks and sophomore Andrew Li are ranked No. 9 and No. 61, respectively, by the ITA, Georgia figures to bring No. 22 Montgomery, No. 31 Emil Reinberg, No. 56 Jan Zielinski, No. 79 Walker Duncan and No. 124 Nathan Ponwith.
Tech has some momentum, yet will look for some vengeance Friday. Last weekend, all 10 student-athletes saw action in productive “blind” matches against No. 23 Columbia, No. 17 Illinois and Georgia.
The Jackets were 6-4 in singles and 2-2 in doubles against Columbia, and 4-4 in singles and 3-1 in doubles against Illinois before running into Georgia.
All three doubles matches went to the Bulldogs on Monday, when Eubanks and Li were winners for Tech in six singles matches. They beat Montgomery and Reinberg, respectively.
Head coach Kenny Thorne may tweak the lineup, especially in doubles. Newcomer Carlos Divar now has some college action under his belt after arriving on campus for the first time a few weeks ago from Spain. He didn’t play singles against Georgia.
“With Carlos coming in, who’s a good doubles player, this throws a new player in there and I think we saw some good things,” Thorne said. “I told the guys that I really like that everybody knows how to play doubles.
“We have a good problem in that we have a lot of good combinations, but we have to narrow it down and find out who’s going to be the best.”
Picking doubles tandems is part science, part art.
Thorne and assistant coach Derek Schwandt look at past results, yet also constantly give players the eye test.
The coaches have a good feel for Eubanks and Li (10-6), who’s won eight of his past 10 singles matches. Everybody, though, remains under a microscope, especially when it comes to doubles play.
“We look at what they did in the fall. We look at what they did over the summer, and as many outside competition results as we can see we’ll go off that,” Thorne said. “We’ll do that at first, and then we’ll look at where guys are in practice every day.
“Who’s showing up with a mentality that you like? Some guys are in a good spot right now and some are not quite so we might have movement throughout the season as guys improve.”
Early signs indicate Divar can contribute now.
“The guy’s crafty, extremely crafty,” Eubanks said. “We heard he was a really good doubles player, and usually when you hear that you think the guy must have some skills around the net, he’s got some good hands, but I think he surpassed my expectations.
“Some of the shots that he can go for, the way he can make the ball move, his movement at the net, his volleys at the net are far better than I expected. And he’s a really, really, good competitor. He definitely can help right away.”
Thorne’s looking forward to the spring.
“We’re going to be together this weekend in two good dual matches, and then we head up to Northwestern to play Stanford and then then winner of Memphis-Northwestern,” he said. “That’s a great team trip.
“These are important matches. Georgia is obvious. Tennessee, we have to get our non-conference matches in before the ACC, which is bigger and bigger.”
The 2017 edition of the Georgia Tech men’s tennis team debuts Friday and is looking to do something big.