Christopher Eubanks is the last American man standing at the Wimbledon tennis tournament and he’s also from Georgia. Eubanks is an Atlanta native and was listed as a two-time All-American during his three seasons at Georgia Tech. Here to talk about Chris’ journey from Westlake High School to Wimbledon is his college coach Kenny Thorne.
Orlando Montoya: You coached Chris for three seasons at Georgia Tech. You also recruited him right out of high school, but he wasn’t a top-ranked junior player. What did you see in him?
Kenny Thorne: Well, besides being 6 foot 7 and a huge serve and a huge forehand, not a lot. He had he actually had a lot of skills. He just hadn’t put them together at the time in junior tennis. He — he trained with one of our top pro players at the time was Donald Young. And Donald was a No. 1 in the world-ranked junior and based himself out of Atlanta and took Chris under his wing in the juniors. So Chris actually traveled with him and was able to hit with him a lot, but he didn’t play quite as many. He played junior tournaments but didn’t play quite as many junior tournaments. So I think his match count was probably a lot lower than some of the other guys in his, you know, in junior tennis. But his, his skills were inconsistent, but at a very high level. The points he was winning, he was winning against basically anybody in the world, even at that time. It was really amazing some of the some of the skills he did have.
Orlando Montoya: What was his turnaround like? Did you witness his turnaround then?
Kenny Thorne: Well, he came — he did come into the college and he, he was able to — I feel like college really puts a lot of pressure on you. You’re in a team environment, where in junior tennis, it’s kind of just about yourself. And so you — when you help the team win, there’s that extra pressure. And he loved the big stage. He really enjoyed having pressure on him. And he was one of those guys that kind of rose to the occasion when pressure was on and he rose through the ranks of our lineup and played No. 1 by the end of his freshman year and really embraced college tennis. And so it was — obviously had a big weapon in his serve and a big weapon in his forehand. Well, I’ll tell you it was a strength at the time; it became a weapon over time. But now I think he’s just settling to his identity on the court that much more. And we’re kind of seeing — seeing the fruits of all his work right now. So it’s really special time.
Orlando Montoya: He is beating the odds. He joins just three Black American men to enter the quarterfinals in their main draw Wimbledon debut. He also did so on what would have been in Arthur Ashe’s 80th birthday. What does that mean for breaking barriers in the game, tennis?
Kenny Thorne: Yeah, he is. He is a special person. He is not just a very good tennis player. He is a very good person. We at Georgia Tech, we would go and do a lot of community service projects. And, you know, sometimes you’re taking guys in college and taking them out because they’re supposed to go out and serve the community and trying to teach them, you know, what it means to give back. And he was the first one there and the last one to leave. And you never had to tutor him on any of the giving back part. He also won the Arthur Ashe Award and — ITA College Tennis Arthur Ashe Award, which is an all-around kind of person award, which obviously Arthur Ashe was that person who was a great tennis player, but he gave back to the community, he gave back to tennis. And Chris, really idolized him. I don’t know if you know, but he actually played Arthur Ashe in the movie that came out, a young Arthur Ashe. He was actually the person who played him in the movie. So he’s definitely looked up to Arthur for a long time. And yeah, hopefully coming up, the U.S. Open, he might be able to play in Arthur’s stadium. That will be a really special thing.
Orlando Montoya: Have you been speaking to him since he’s been at the tournament?
Kenny Thorne: Yeah, I try to, honestly, leave him alone. He’s got so many people wanting to talk to him and we’ll text back and forth. We just got off — he sent me a couple of pictures. He’s over there enjoying, you know, Wimbledon and the players’ lounge. And I send him — he sent me a picture of him sitting at a table with our assistant coach Kevin King, who’s over there, and his coach, Rowan, is over there as well. And they look pretty comfortable over there. And I sent him a picture of me sweating in 95-degree heat down here in southern Florida recruiting. And he’s just laughing, saying, “stay strong, coach.” So we’ve had a good time. But not — to be honest, it’s just a bunch of fist bumps and emojis and Yellow Jacket emojis. That’s about it.
Orlando Montoya: What would you like those watching and rooting for Christopher to know about him off the court?
Kenny Thorne: Well, I’ve I— ‘ve said that a few times, but I think it is he’s — he’s such a good celebrator of other people. And he celebrated some of the greats like Coco Gauff when she was taking off. And she’s still so very young. But he lifted her up. And he’s — he’s celebrated. Serena, he’s celebrated a lot of the players out there while they’re having some of their best times on the tour. And so I — I just — it’s really neat to see people celebrating him. And, you know, you can say a lot of people deserve it and everybody works hard out there. And I think he’s just such a special person that it’s easy to celebrate him. And he’s — my assistant called me right after the last match and he goes, “Oh my gosh, it was like a home match. He’s got all of England cheering for him.” And like, well, he’s — he’s always doing great with his on-court interviews afterward. And he’s just a special person and he’s fortunately able to — to have a special time over at the biggest tournament in the world.
Orlando Montoya: Well, you must be proud of — of your role, or at least Georgia Tech’s role.
Kenny Thorne: Yeah, well, Georgia Tech was great to Chris. He loved Georgia Tech. He still loves it. He trains out of Georgia Tech and it was neat. We had my first call right after he beat the No. 5 guy in the world — Tsitsipas — was from our president, Ángel Cabrera. Picked up and called me and just was so excited for Chris. And — and so they set up actually a watch party tomorrow at the COTA Center at Georgia Tech for him to — for people to come out if they want to watch him play down on the campus. And so, yeah, I think everybody’s behind him. He’s been supporting Georgia Tech for a while. And so Georgia Tech is definitely going to support him while he’s over in England having — living his dream.
Orlando Montoya: Well, we’ll be watching. And thanks so much for joining us, Kenny.
Kenny Thorne: Oh, it’s my pleasure. All the best.
Chris Eubanks will play in the men’s quarterfinals at the Wimbledon tournament in London on Wednesday at 9:15 a.m. Eastern time. A watch party at Georgia Tech is also being held at 10 a.m. ET, with Eubanks’ match slated to begin after the conclusion of the women’s quarterfinal between Aryna Sabalenka and Madison Keys, which begins at 8 a.m. ET.
This story comes to Rough Draft Atlanta through a reporting partnership with GPB News, a non-profit newsroom covering the state of Georgia.