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Whatever It Takes

Nov. 17, 2009

by Jon Cooper, Contributing Editor

ATLANTA –Guillermo Gomez loves playing tennis.

He loves it so much that he just can’t stop playing — and there is nothing and next to no one that can make him.

The 22-year-old native of Alcante, Spain, who in January will begin his junior season at Georgia Tech, won 13 of the 15 matches he played this fall for the Yellow Jackets, dropping a total of nine sets on the way to the finals of the ITA Indoor National Championships.

“I did not know that,” he said with a laugh. “I have always had very high expectations. Coming into my junior year I was like, ‘I’m not losing. I don’t know what is going to happen in the match, but I’m not going to lose this match. I’m going to find a way, always.’

“I’m not doing anything that’s unbelievable. I’m not doing any shot that has just been so good. I’ve just been consistent, nothing special.”

Unless, of course, you consider playing with a sports hernia over the last two months to be special.

That’s what Gomez did after feeling the first signs of injury in the D’Nova/ITA All-American Championships in early October. Later that month, at the Southeast Regionals, he got through the round of 16, enduring a brutal three-set match with Florida’s Antoine Benneteau, that lasted nearly four hours. Having qualified for the National Indoors with the victory over Benneteau, he finally conceded he needed some rest and pulled out of the tournament.

At the National Indoors, he gutted his way through to the finals, before finally losing to Southern California’s Steve Johnson in a tough three-setter, dropping a final-set tie-breaker (4-6, 7-6 (7-2), 6-7 (3-7), coincidentally, to the same player who knocked him out of last year’s NCAA singles championship in the round of 32.

“He’s a fighter. He’s a bull,” said Tech men’s coach Kenny Thorne. “He’s one of those guys that loves to win, hates to lose. He worked on a lot of things that I think panned out a lot better in the fall for him and really helped him to be successful all the way through the fall and on into the last tournament. He just came up a tiebreaker short but had a very, very good tournament.”

While Gomez is happy with how far he’s pushed himself, he knows he can always push himself a little harder.

“It’s just a matter of how did I play last year? Who did I beat? What are my results?” he said. “After that, I can decide. I say to myself, ‘I’ve done this. I can do better.’ So I just make my mind up to do that.”

Part of that mindset was formed in his teen years in Spain when he played against some of the best players his country has ever produced. A little pain is not going to intimidate Gomez, who spent two years going racket-head-to-racket-head with Rafael Nadal, currently the No. 2 ranked player in the world, when both played at an academy in Mallorca, and Carlos Moya, the 1998 French Open Champion, 1997 Australian Open runner-up and the first Spaniard ever to reach No. 1 in the world.

“At the time, I was 15 he was 16,” Gomez recalled of playing Nadal. “He was really good. He has always been really good. He wasn’t what he is now. I hit with him. It wasn’t a big deal at that time to play with him.”

What is becoming a big deal, at least on the college tennis circuit, is the rise of Georgia Tech tennis.

That was evident at the National Indoors, where both Gomez and female sophomore sensation Irina Falconi reached the finals in singles competition. They even played on neighboring courts.

“It was just a great representation of Georgia Tech tennis in the finals,” said Thorne. “That was a special thing for both of them and for Georgia Tech.”

While both Yellow Jackets fell short of achieving the unique double, Gomez is proud of the impact Georgia Tech Tennis is making.

“It feels really good,” he said. “I’m really happy that Irina’s doing that good. She won the All-Americans. I just think that it is really good that we had one guy in the finals and one girl in the finals. It’s something that very few people have done.”

Gomez, whose ultimate goal is to play professionally on the ATP, hopes to do something special in his junior season, specifically contribute to a national championship. But he knows that to be king of the court, he must first get back on it. He’ll have surgery later this week to repair the hernia, and then will travel the long road to recovery. He has hopes of getting back by the start of the season in January.

“I might not be able to play at 100 percent in January, but I know that whatever the situation is, I’m going to be able to be competitive,” he said before adding with a laugh, “as long as I’m able to run.”

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