Tech’s tennis team may be propelled by an influx of youth for this season, but leading the group is junior Cole Fiegel. An IE from Alachua, Fla., Fiegel sat down with the Technique to discuss his experiences on and off the court over his first three seasons.
Technique: How did you first get into tennis?
Fiegel: When I was a kid, probably about five years old, my mom put me in literally every sport, so I started off playing basketball, baseball, tennis, soccer and then football around eight [years old].
Baseball and tennis were the sports that I was best at. I played both until I was thirteen when I went to high school, and then I had to choose one, so I chose tennis. It was really a flip of a coin.
Technique: Coming from Florida, why did you choose Georgia Tech or Atlanta as a whole?
Fiegel: Really, the school was the big draw. When I was younger, I always really liked math, so Georgia Tech was the school in the South if you wanted to be an engineer, and now, it’s the school anywhere if you want to be an engineer. That was always the school I really wanted to go to and when the coaches contacted me, it was instant [decision].
Technique: How would you assess your play at Tech each year thus far?
Fiegel: For me, coming in my freshman year, I wasn’t even necessarily expected to play in the line-up. The team looked to be loaded. Unfortunately, [we] had some injuries, but it kind of helped me because it allowed me a chance to play in the line-up my freshman year.
My freshman year, I did well. My record was good, and I felt that I really competed hard throughout the entire season. Going into my second year, it was nice to have experience, but we also had more guys come in.
We had four freshmen come in [the next year]. The freshmen did very well and were able to play high spots in the lineup, which is very impressive especially in the ACC where the teams are so good. For Mike [Kay] and Chris [Eubanks] to be able to come in as freshmen and play high in the lineup is really impressive. It helped the team … make a push at the end of my second year in the last couple matches and then the ACC to make the NCAA. The NCAA didn’t exactly go how we wanted it to, but it was still a big step up from not making NCAA [and] not being ranked my freshman year.
This year, I feel like we have a shot to do some really good things. For me, I feel like I’ve improved each season, getting better and better and playing higher in the lineup.
Technique: How has your role changed over the last few seasons?
Fiegel: Honestly, it’s not that much different than this year because I would say even last year, my sophomore year, I still had to provide some sort of guidance.
[The younger players have] done well for the most part, so they don’t need too much of my advice. The best way to lead is by example, so if I show that I am willing to put the effort in and do whatever it takes to help the team, that will motivate them to do the same.
Technique: Congratulations on making the ACC Academic Honor Roll twice. How do you balance being a student athlete while completing a full engineering curriculum?
Fiegel: I’m struggling a little bit this year, actually, but I would say it’s about time management and priorities. If you manage your time well and outside of the athletic perspective, you set your priority as school, you’ll be fine. I think when I run into trouble … is when [I] want to do other things as well.
I still have the opportunity to succeed if I put all of my focus on tennis and school, but if I want to spend time on other things, my grades will suffer.
Technique: Is there anything academically or organizationally that you wanted to participate in that you didn’t get to do because of tennis?
Fiegel: No, but I wouldn’t say that’s because there’s nothing that I want to do … I’m just not that aware … I would have no way to really know about the other things going on that I’m not participating in. I don’t like to always be doing things. My break time, my time away from school and tennis, is just time I spend by myself doing whatever, and so, I can spend that time whenever.
Technique: What improvements are you looking to make for the coming year?
Fiegel: I think there’s always room for improvement. I definitely I feel like I have [improved] a lot and so knowing that I only have one more year left of competitive tennis at this high of a level gives me a lot of motivation to try to do everything I can to maximize what I do have.
Technique: Is there anything that you have been changing training-wise?
Fiegel: No, I think it’s more of what I do in my training time, compared to the way I train. I know that I’ve played my best tennis over the summer. I’m sleeping 11 hours per day over the summer. I’m so well-rested, and it’s my only priority.
Technique: You’re left-handed. Did that give you an edge?
Fiegel: I think that it does have its positives. The obvious advantage that it would have is on the serve: the slice serves going to the opponent’s backhand. But if you think about it, that means their slice serves are going to my backhand as well.
I would say that the biggest advantage is the fact that I’m always playing people who are right-handed. Right-handed people are rarely playing people that are left-handed, so the biggest advantage I get is that I’m used to playing them, but they’re not used to playing me.
Technique: How significant of an advantage does your handedness provide?
Fiegel: I wouldn’t even necessarily say it’s an advantage. It’s all about how it’s handled by the opponent and really how it affects the match-up.
If you look at the top of men’s tennis, Nadal, because he’s left-handed, matches up very well against Federer because his forehand going across for Federer’s backhand is a very good pattern for Nadal. It’s very difficult for Federer to handle that, but you can’t match Nadal against Djokovic or Nishikori or someone who takes the backhand on the rise very well … being left-handed or right-handed doesn’t really help Nadal because those opponents take the backhand early. They neutralize something that would be an advantage, and it’s not. It doesn’t really help him much anymore. It’s just that it’s an even playing field.
Technique: Speaking of professional tennis players, do you have a role model?
Fiegel: I wouldn’t say there’s like one guy that really stands out. I think that all of the players are inspirational. They all have their own stories and they all work
Nadal is kind of the easy pick for me just because he’s left-handed, I’m left-handed, and his game style is more similar to the way that I play. It would be an easy choice, and I do like Nadal very much. I love watching him play, but I wouldn’t say that any player is like above them, the favorite.
Technique: Do you ever intentionally try to model your playing style after Nadal’s?
Fiegel: To some extent. I think that every individual is different, and everybody should try to take different things from different players’ games.
I knew if I were to take something from Nadal, which I do try to take, it’s the way that he competes … and really just his overall stature on the court. His presence, the person standing on the other side of the court knows that the match will be tough, and that gives him somewhat of a psychological edge.
Technique: What is your favorite thing about Georgia Tech that isn’t academics or tennis?
Fiegel: That’s a tough one. The big thing for me is the people. You’ll notice when [new students] first come in that they have a sense of pride because they were all the best in their high school, but once that kind of simmers down, you realize that you can really go up to anybody and talk, and there’s so much to learn.
The students here are all successful, and they’ve all achieved so much, but some people achieve it here through just brilliance and some people are frantically studying all the time and then some people kind of like downplay how much it really means to them.
I love just learning from the students and how hard they work and how they’ve achieved success. I think that that’s really helped me because my whole life I’ve kind of … I hate to say this, but it’s almost how I’ve done and what I’ve achieved has been kind of based around the community that I’ve been put in.
If I’ve been put with a group of people who work extremely hard, I’m more likely to work extremely hard. When I first came here, the academic success is so high at Georgia Tech. At Georgia Tech, I did way better than high school, which is like, why?
I’m taking harder classes now, and I’m being compared to much smarter people that work harder, and it’s like why? How come I [am doing] better at Georgia Tech than in high school? It’s really the environment. It forces me to work harder, so I really like that. It helps me a lot.