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Georgia Tech Men's Tennis head coach Kenny Thorne sat down with Mike Stamus to discuss the upcoming ITA Kickoff Weekend for RamblinWreck.com
Georgia Tech sophomore Christopher Eubanks at the 2015 BB&T Atlanta Open
Kenny Thorne recorded one of the most successful tennis careers by a player from the state of Georgia, winning seven pro titles and defeating four of the world's top-10 players in the 1990's. Some of Thorne's notable victories include wins over Richard Krajicek, Wayne Ferreira, Mark Philippoussis and Todd Martin. As a pro, he achieved his highest singles ranking of No. 121 and a doubles ranking of No. 67. Thorne brings his love of tennis and impressive professional playing experience to his alma mater, Georgia Tech.
Charged with building the Georgia Tech tennis program back to the level it was when he was a player, Thorne was named to the newly-created position of Director of Tennis on June 30, 1998, becoming the ninth head coach in Tech men's tennis history.
Thorne took over the reins of the Tech program after spending one season as the team's assistant coach and wasted little time in taking steps toward his ultimate goal of turning the Yellow Jackets into a contender.
The Yellow Jackets have reached the NCAA Championship 12 times in his 18 years at the helm, and six of those have advanced past the opening round. Tech made it back for the second straight year in 2016 with its best record since 2011 (17-9, 8-4 ACC). After a two-year absence, the 2010 and 2011 teams reached the second and third rounds of the tournament, respectively, finished fourth in the Atlantic Coast Conference each time (15-7 record), while posting a combined 39-14 dual match record.
This past spring, Thorne surpassed the legendary Tech coach Earle Bortell 228-108-2) for most career coaching victories in the Yellow Jackets’ program history. Thorne now has 235 victories over 18 seasons against 195 losses.
Over the last eight years, Thorne has developed two of the best singles players in Tech history, Guillermo Gomez (2008-11) and current rising junior Christopher Eubanks, both of whom earned ACC Player of the Year honors. He has also developed two of the best doubles players in Tech history, Juan Spir, who advanced to the NCAA Doubles Championship semifinals in 2012 and quarterfinals in 2013 with different partners. Spir and Kevin King, Spir's doubles partner for 75 of his Tech-record 103 victories, played in the NCAA Singles Championship as well.
Under Thorne's guidance, Tech had at least one ITA All-American every year from 2009-13, and has had at least one All-Atlantic Coast Conference honoree each year since 2008.
Tech's 2011 team finished the year ranked 13th in the nation and reached the round of 16 at the NCAA Championship, both high-water marks for Tech tennis under Thorne. Tech's 21 wins in 2011 were the most for the Jackets under Thorne and the second most in the history of the program.
As a result, the Tech alum was named the ITA National Coach of the Year, becoming only the fourth Georgia Tech head coach ever to receive such an honor.
Thorne built those Tech squads around four-time All-ACC honoree Gomez, who was named the ACC Player of the Year in 2011 and earned ITA All-American honors three times, and broke Thorne's record for career singles victories. He also recruited another pair of ITA All-Americans in King and Spir, who formed one of the top 10 doubles teams nationally and developed into top-of-the-lineup players in singles, both earning NCAA bids in 2012.
Tech's last two teams in 2015 and 2016 have been built around Eubanks, a five-star junior player from Atlanta who has helped the Jackets earn NCAA Championship appearances each year and a 31-21 overall record, while Eubanks himself rose to No. 7 in the ITA singles rankings.
Thirteen of Thorne's Tech teams have finished the spring ranked among the top 50 in the ITA team rankings, and eight of them have finished in the top half of the perennially powerful Atlantic Coast Conference.
He has coached 10 different players to All-ACC honors 21 times, and three of his players have been named ACC Player of the Year. Nine different players have earned ITA All-America honors.
Also under Thorne's watch, 13 players have earned bids to the NCAA Singles Championship and eight have made the NCAA Doubles Championship field.
Other highlights include:
• During the 2003 campaign, Georgia Tech earned a spot in the NCAA Tournament and climbed into the 14th spot in the national rankings midway through the year. The Jackets also boasted their first All-America honorees since 1988, as the doubles team of Roger Anderson and Scott Schnugg earned the honor after finishing the year as the country's 10th-ranked tandem. The duo also earned All-ACC honors after winning the league's Flight One Doubles title. Tech finished with a 12-10 record and notched seven wins over ranked opponents, including a 4-2 victory over ninth-ranked Texas on February 16.
• In 2002, Tech defeated eight ranked teams and reached the finals of the ACC Championship, en route to a 15-11 dual-match record, while also reaching the NCAA Tournament for the third time in four years under Thorne. In the ACC Tournament, the Jackets upset top-seeded and 14th-ranked Duke in the semifinals by a 4-0 score and ended the Blue Devils four-year reign as ACC Champions. On an individual level, Roger Anderson earned All-ACC honors for the second time and earned his first berth in the NCAA Individual Championship, becoming the first Tech player to do so since 1999.
• During the 2000-01 season, Thorne made great strides toward achieving his goal. When the Yellow Jackets climbed to No. 20 in the national rankings on April 11, they claimed their highest ranking since 1988, when Thorne was an All-American and team captain.
• Thorne led the 2001 Yellow Jackets to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Roger Anderson earned All-Atlantic Coast Conference honors and three Tech players earned ACC Flight championships in singles or doubles.
• Under Thorne's guidance in 2000, Anderson became the first Tech player to earn ACC Rookie of the Year honors after leading the Yellow Jackets with a 24-8 singles record, including a 15-5 mark in dual matches.
• In his first year as head coach in 1999, Thorne earned ACC Coach of the Year honors after guiding the Yellow Jackets to a second-place tie in the regular-season conference standings, a runner-up finish at the ACC Tournament, an NCAA Regional berth and a final national ranking of 32 by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA). Senior Benjamin Cassaigne was named the ACC Player of the Year, earned all-conference honors and captured the ACC Flight Championship at No. 1 singles.
• With Tech's 1999 NCAA Regional berth, Thorne became the first person in ACC history and just the second nationally, joining LSU's Jeff Brown, to lead the same school to post-season competition as a player, assistant coach and head coach since the current NCAA team dual-match format was instituted in 1977. (Prior to 1977, team finishes were determined by an accumulation of points based on individual play.) Thorne helped Tech to NCAA play as a senior in 1988, as an assistant coach in 1998 and as head coach in 1999.
Thorne earned an Industrial Engineering degree from Tech in 1989 and during his four seasons as a player from 1985-88, the Jackets posted a 70-38 dual-match record and a 20-7 ACC mark, including wins over nationally-ranked foes such as Georgia and Clemson in 1988, his final season. Tech climbed as high as 10th in the ITA national rankings during Thorne's senior season before the Jackets ended the year ranked 12th nationally.
He qualified for the NCAA singles tournament in 1986 and 1988 and advanced to the second round on both occasions. Thorne also competed in the 1988 NCAA doubles tourney with partner Bryan Shelton. After turning professional in 1989, Thorne spent eight years on the tour, achieving his highest singles ranking of 121 and doubles ranking of 67 in the world. He was also a six-time participant at Wimbledon, the U.S. Open, French Open and Australian Open.
Thorne's best career wins were over 1996 Wimbledon champion Richard Krajicek, ATP No. 11 Wayne Ferreira, Australia's Mark Philippoussis and Todd Martin of the United States. He posted two career ATP doubles titles, one career Challenger singles title and four career Challenger doubles titles.
An All-American in 1988, Thorne finished his Georgia Tech playing career as a four-time All-ACC honoree and the career leader in singles victories with 112. He was also a two-time captain and an Academic All-ACC honoree. Thorne was inducted into the Georgia Tech Athletic Hall of Fame in 1995.
Thorne married former Yellow Jacket cross country standout and Tech Hall of Fame inductee, Bridget Koster, in 1990. The couple has two daughters, Rachel and Kenedy, and two sons, Zachary and Daniel. Rachel is a distance runner on the Tech track team.