March 13, 2012
By Matt Winkeljohn
Rain and lightning pushed the tail end of the final match indoors Tuesday. By then, the Yellow Jackets had already clinched victory against Miami and in the process weathered another sort of storm to find sun.
The men’s tennis team at Georgia Tech has scuffled more than in recent years, which is not entirely odd.
There were large graduation losses from perhaps the best team in school history, half the present roster is freshmen, and one — Sebastian Lopez — did not become eligible until the second semester had been pulled out of the oven and cooled for a week or two.
The Jackets smoked Miami 7-0, a welcome and resounding rebound from their last match.
It sure did not feel right when the Jackets swept Clemson to earn the doubles point and then had All-American Kevin King win at No. 1 singles to stake Tech to a 2-0 lead — only to then drop a home match to the Tigers, 4-3.
The trick had been this: in losses at Florida State and to Clemson, King was 2-0 and his teammates were 1-9.
Tuesday, they all won and Lopez clinched the match with a 6-2, 6-2 victory at No. 6 singles over Miami’s Marco Stancati.
“It was almost a must-win situation for us,” said head coach Kenny Thorne. “I feel like we’ve been in a lot of situations where we were close, but just hadn’t relaxed at those moments that really make the difference in the entire match.
“I thought . . . we got there, and we tensed up for a little while, and then we relaxed and embraced the battle. We’ve talked about that a lot.”
King, the senior who is ranked No. 13 nationally, continued plowing.
He and junior Juan Spir, who combine to form the No. 2-ranked doubles squad in the land, had to battle to win 9-7 in tandem play.
A similar run of success did not portend great things for the Jackets the last time out, against Clemson.
Thorne did not get to be National Coach of the Year last season by accident, however, and he’s working it again — albeit while covering terrain in a substantially different vehicle.
The Jackets (6-7, 1-2 ACC) still smell like a new car.
“The team is young, and we were kind of thrown to the wolves early on; I think we got beat up a little bit,” the coach said.
“I think we’re kind of working through things, and if we can take one thing away its confidence in the big moments of the match … learning how to relax and not try to do too much. We did that well.”
Not long after King rolled 6-2, 6-1 at No. 1 singles to move his record to 25-5 and give the Jackets a 2-0 lead over Miami (6-5, 0-3), Spir finished his work at No. 2 singles 6-4, 6-2.
With three freshmen still toiling, the job was not finished so King and Spir committed to cheering.
“We’ve had some tough matches in the ACC,” King said. “We have a lot of learning to do. Any freshman that comes in here, it’s a change, a lot of adjustments.”
Lopez, whose eligibility was delayed by paperwork issues as the season began, made it official with his win over Stancati.
A native of Medellin, Colombia, like Spir, Lopez is 5-2 and 2-1 in ACC action.
“I think [winning] … helps us a lot because at the beginning we were struggling a lot, but now we are much better,” Lopez said.
Although the Jackets had clinched at 4-0, all matches were played to completion.
Thorne had switched Miljevic from No. 4 to No. 3, and vice-versa with junior Juan Melian.
They both won, Melian needing a third-set tie-breaker to get the job done indoors after the sky cracked and cried and moved matters under a lid.
Before that, Eduardo Segura had won a third-set tie breaker on court five after rallying from a first-set loss to win the second 6-1.
With 12 days off before resuming action against Boston College, Tuesday was the first in a while good day to be a Jacket.
There was a switch of emotion and energy as there was a more modest change in the lineup.
“Dusan’s been playing well, and he just needed to get over the hump of finishing matches off,” Thorne said. “I wanted to give him confidence [by moving him up to No. 3], let him know, `I know you’re right there.’ Sometimes, change just for the sake of change is good.”
It’s tough to know whether the Jackets are “right there” yet. Change was very good, however, on Tuesday at the Bill Moore Tennis Center, the plowing under of which will begin May 1 when demolition begins as a a precursor to construction of a new facility that is slated to be in play in time for next spring. firstname.lastname@example.org.