When he was at Wimbledon earlier this summer as a hitting partner for Atlantan Donald Young, Georgia Tech tennis player Christopher Eubanks said he had to pinch himself “every morning I woke up” to make sure he wasn’t living a dream.
He may have to do likewise Tuesday evening at Atlantic Station. Eubanks, who earned All-ACC recognition this spring as a freshman, will take the court at the BB&T Open to play a first-round doubles match with Young, his friend and mentor.
“I can’t even put it into words,” Eubanks said Monday. “It’s going to be one of those things that it’ll just be a memory I’ll have to cherish. It’s going to be an incredible time. I just can’t wait to finally be out there.”
Eubanks has also received a wild card into the 28-player singles draw, a plum that the BB&T has given to a top in-state collegian starting last year. He was supposed to play his first-round singles match Tuesday night, on the tournament’s college night, but that match was pushed back to Wednesday. Eubanks drew Radek Stepanek, who played this past week in Bogota, Colombia. Because of the travel, ATP Tour rules permitted Stepanek to push his first-round match to Wednesday, which he elected to do.
The court and time of the Wednesday match will be released Tuesday night around 9 p.m. and will be available at the tournament website. If Eubanks can somehow pull the upset of Stepanek, who was a world top-1oo player earlier this year, it would set up a second-round matchup that would be fantasy for the BB&T ticket office - the Tech freshman Eubanks vs. Georgia great John Isner, the top seed and two-time defending champion.
Eubanks has been trying to take advantage of as much of the experience as possible. As of Monday afternoon, he had already hit with pros Steve Johnson, Sam Groth and Go Soeda, in part to make sure he’s as ready for his match as possible but also as a learning tool.
“It's actually not as different as our practices that we have in college," Eubanks said. "The thing is the level of perfection is so much better. We all can hit some of the same shots, it's the consistency that these guys can do it, over and over again. The way they go about it is totally different."
Having grown up in Atlanta – Eubanks is a graduate of Westlake High – Eubanks has been aware of the tournament, now in its sixth year, and imagined himself in it. The actual experience, he said, is “totally different.”
The two experiences – going to Wimbledon with Young and now the ATP event, the first in the run-up to the U.S. Open – have made for a rather fruitful summer for Eubanks, who finished his freshman season by making the second round of the NCAA singles championship.
“Actually seeing (Wimbledon) on TV doesn’t do it justice,” he said. “Just being there, being on the grounds, seeing all the players, feeling the history that’s embodied inside of that atmosphere is incredible. I really enjoyed that. The grass was amazing to play on.”
Memories from Wimbledon
Young’s stay at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club did not last long – he was ousted in the first round – hence Eubanks’ didn’t either. Still, he was there long enough to watch several pros practice while also training with Young. Rafael Nadal made a particular impression.
“He takes practice so seriously,” Eubanks said. “He’s going all out for everything in practice, and I don’t think it’s like anybody else I’ve ever seen when it comes to practice.”
He also had some fun with Young, helping ready him with two practice tiebreakers. The two made a bet on the outcome, with the loser having to run sprints. Eubanks needed to just win one, and, after losing the first, he was up 6-5 and serving for the tiebreaker when he claims he rifled an ace. Young, however, called it out, and went on to win the tiebreaker, resulting in Eubanks running the sprints. Eubanks contends a few fans watching the practice favored his interpretation of the serve.
Said Eubanks, “It was 100 percent in.”
Mentor and friend
Eubanks’ friendship with Young, the 26-year-old pro who has played professionally since 2004, began through Young’s parents, Donald and Lilona Young. When Eubanks was 14, his father Mark brought him to the South Fulton Tennis Center in College Park to be coached by Young’s parents. When Young came through town, he often hit with Eubanks, who was in awe. He has continued to be an influence, and the two will share an indelible moment Tuesday night when they the fourth-seeded team of Mate Pavic and Michael Venus, who reached the doubles finals of last week’s Bogota event.
They'll play on the stadium court, about a mile from Tech's campus, with the match scheduled to start no earlier than 8 p.m., the night's drawing card. Eubanks, 6-foot-7, will bring a big serve and, most likely, a lot of fans. He said Young has told him to try to approach it like any other match.
Said Eubanks, “A lot easier said than done.”
More information about tickets is available here.