Nov. 5, 2011
Flushing, N.Y. – Eliot Potvin, who completed his four-year career with the Yellow Jackets’ tennis team last spring, is in New York this weekend covering his former teammates, Kevin King and Juan Spir, as they compete for the USTA/ITA National Intercollegiate Indoor Championships at the National Tennis Center. Here is his third and final installment.
Day 3 had its ups and downs. We woke up and went back to Buccaneers Diner. (Tennis players like to stay with anything that produced a win, which means eating at the same restaurants over and over and over.) We all got the same omelets, a few cups of coffee and were quickly on our way to the practice court. Kevin and Juan got warmed up and it was 9 a.m. before we knew it.
The Jackets were playing a team from Florida that won our Southeast Regional and were feeling very confident. Kevin and Juan looked like they were not quite ready to show Florida who was boss. The match was close early and we were on serve until 2-2. At 2-2 Kevin played a sloppy service game, hitting two double faults. The guys fell down a break 3-2. The next game Kevin rebounded and got all over the net, and Spir finished off a break for the Jackets with a backhand winner down the line. Two more holds and we were at 4-4. Kevin was serving again and Florida ripped a number of good returns off of Kevin’s serve and got another break. 5-4 Florida. Florida held to go 6-4, and I was getting a little uneasy. Juancho kept the Jackets in it with a couple big serves at 4-6. Three more close games and we arrived at “do or die” time for our guys: Florida was serving for the match at 7-6.
Bill (Kevin’s father) turned to me and said, “this guy gets nervous, this will be interesting.) That was the truth. First point, Kevin hit a deep return and Mr. Nervous missed the first ball in the net. Second point Spir missed his return. 15-15. Kevin hit another good return and Juancho crossed and hit a volley winner. Then Spir missed another return. My palms sweating, I was very frustrated. Kevin had picked up his game and Spir had dropped off a little bit. This continued through five deuces and five break points. Finally Spir made a return and Florida missed an easy shot (the same guy Bill targeted at the beginning of the game). It looked like the Jackets had pulled through a tough deficit and were going to get it going and come out the other side. Juancho’s service game at 7-7 had some good points and good energy from the Jackets, but we couldn’t pull through and got broken. At 8-7 Florida held with a poor return game from our end, and took the match 9-7. Our top ranked Jackets lost in the quarters to a hot team that played well, but our guys didn’t play the kind of tennis that makes them the best team in the country.
After the match Coach Thorne was explaining to the guys, “You guys just couldn’t seem to get going at the same time. Juan was up, then Kevin was up. If you could have both had that good energy together for about 3 or 4 games, it would have been a different story.”
There was a gloomy attitude for a bit after that match, but Kevin was going to have to rebound and get ready for singles. We went back to Subway on the way to the hotel and relaxed for a little while before his 1 p.m. start. Nuala and I were a little worried that Kevin would have a hard time bouncing back from a tough loss in doubles. Kevin put that worry to rest rather quickly, He blew past his round of 16 opponent, 6-3, 6-1. He played the kind of tennis that I flew up to New York to see. His next match was scheduled for 6 p.m., so back to the hotel again for some R&R.
The four of us got back to the courts and Kev warmed up with Juan. It was “time for battle,” as coach likes to say. Kevin was going up against a very tough player from Illinois, Dennis Nevolo, ranked No. 7 in the nation. Without a doubt, Dennis is one of the most solid players out there; pretty good serve, very heavy forehand, and a great backhand. He doesn’t have many weaknesses. But Kevin’s game can give anyone problems because of his huge serve and attacking style.
In the first set, Kev started out serving bombs and dominating on his service games. Kevin worked to deuce on a few return games but was unable to break: 6-6…tiebreak. At this point in the match Juan and I were comparing sweaty palms. Dennis started the tiebreak with a few very tough points and Kevin got down 4-2. But he rebounded well and reeled of four straight points. Dennis saved the first set point on his serve, but Kevin pulled through up 6-5 with a great serve and an aggressive baseline rally, finishing with a forehand winner. First set: Tech.
The second set started a little big sluggishly for Kev. Two bad games was all it took, as Novolo continued to serve well and play very solid tennis. This match was going the distance, and it was a war. We were all feeling exhausted watching.
Kevin got back on track in the third, and started out strong by going up a break 3-1. A see-saw game on Kevin’s serve at 3-1 was the game that would decide the match. Dennis had started going for his shots a bit more. Out of frustration or from relaxing, I’m not sure, but he was playing some brutal tennis. Kevin matched him, but couldn’t hold on. 2-3 for Tech, on serve.
Novolo kept slugging the ball, and won two quick games to go up a break 4-3. Kevin didn’t give up or get frustrated though, he just kept working. Kevin had some chances to get his break back, but Novolo had turned it on and Kevin couldn’t quite match him. Dennis served out the match at 5-4, and ended Kevin’s winning streak and great fall season.
The match we had all witnessed was a great one. Both guys battled hard, played fair and showed a lot of respect to each other. It was fun to watch, and I was left saying to Kenny, “Kevin has come a long way and I’m glad I got to see him play at this level.” I was really proud of the way Kevin had competed and although he lost, he had a great tournament.
Kevin knew he had given it his all, and was disappointed after the match but knew that Dennis had just played too well. Kenny made the call that we would get to head into Times Square in search of a classic slice of NYC pizza, despite it being 8:30. We rushed back to the hotel and were heading out at 9:15. Let me tell you that being in Kenny’s van can be a nerve-racking experience when we are in Athens, Ga…. NYC?? BUCKLE UP was the memo being passed around our car.
We made our way into the city (despite a few navigational errors) and got to walk around Times Square. We had a hard time finding our NY slice, and ended up going back to the car to do a “drive and search.” We found it, and it was worth the wait. Kevin was about to pass out when we got there, after six sets of tennis and only a bar since his marathon match, he was ready to eat. And boy did he eat … four huge slices.
From our pizza place we went down to see Freedom Tower. Although it is roughly half as tall as it is going to be, we were amazed at its size and design. Juan was too tired to get out of the car and get in the picture, so I filled in. It was about 12:30 when we headed back to the hotel, and we were exhausted. Kenny did a great job driving, despite it getting a little scary at some points. We got back to the hotel around 1:15 and headed straight to bed.
Although I was hoping the Jackets would be bringing home some hardware from NY, it was a great trip. I witnessed some great Georgia Tech tennis and got to hang out with the Yellow Jacket family, which is always fun. Kenny shared a lot of great coaching insights with me, and I got to witness Kevin come into his own on the court. It is going to be fun watching these two guys in the spring season. Overall, it was good tournament, and I wouldn’t hesitate to fly back up here if I had the chance to again. Now I’m off to catch a standby flight back to the ATL. GO JACKETS!!