One week ago, Nathan Pasha, a rising senior at the University of Georgia, was teaching tennis to youngsters at The John Beck Tennis Academy in Bogart, Georgia. He needed to make money to pay bills for his new off-campus house at UGA. However, a few days ago Pasha got a call from Atlanta tournament director Eddie Gonzalez, and he was offered a main draw wild card. Austin Smith was scheduled to get the WC, but he entered a futures event the same week and was forced to withdraw. Pasha couldn’t say no.
“I found out four days ago. I had been teaching for about two and half weeks, and that’s all I had been doing. So when I found out I tried to get back in shape, find some timing, and get ready as best I could in about three days,” Pasha said.
He had played a couple of futures events in June, including a run to the semifinals in Buffalo. But that combined with a long college tennis season had Pasha burnt out. He needed a break from tennis. Obviously playing an ATP event was good enough reason to interrupt that break.
Pasha played Slovakian Lukas Lacko tuesday, his first ever match against a top 100 player. Pasha has a similar build to frenchman Gael Monfils. He stands at 6’3, is lanky but strong, and his athleticism is incredible. His explosive movement is a sight for suffering American tennis fans’ eyes. In the first game of the match, Pasha hit the hardest serve of the tournament at that point. He blasted one down “T” at 136 M.P.H., and was averaging about 128 throughout the match.
Having only three days to prepare, it was clear that Pasha was a little off timing-wise, especially on the forehand side, where he has a very slight hitch in his backswing. He made quite a few errors off that side in the first set, as Lacko simply outclassed him from the baseline. The first set was over in 27 minutes, with Lacko taking it 6-2.
The second set started in similar fashion, with Lacko, who is a very pure ball striker, dominating nearly every exchange. But slowly Pasha started getting his foot into the match, extending rallies and mixing in the slice. His forehand is a plus shot when he gets it right, and at 4-3 in the second set, it started to click. He hit two inside-in winners to break Lacko, giving him a 5-3 lead, and let out a big yell of emotion. With the crowd behind him, he had a chance to serve out the set.
From there, things went downhill fast. He double-faulted four times to get broken straight back, and only won 2 of the final 18 points in the match, losing the second set 5-7. He admitted afterwards that nerves got the best of him.
“I’ve been playing tennis for 15 years. I have to make serves in that situation. It was all mental,” Pasha said. “I saw the finish line and I freaked out.”
Regardless, there is a lot of upside for Pasha, and he knows that a match like this can give him valuable experience for the future.
“I think in those situations I just need to slow down, take my time,” Pasha said. I’m sure Manny (Diaz) will talk to me about it and how I can learn from it.”
To play in your premier ATP World Tour singles match on only three days of preparation is extremely difficult, and a 6-2 7-5 scoreline is certainly nothing to be ashamed of. Pasha has one year left at Georgia, where he’ll look to lead a stacked Bulldogs lineup to their first national championship since a John Isner lead squad in 2007.
He said that he’s going to keep teaching tennis for the rest of the summer, make as much money as he can, and then prepare for his senior season. His life is vastly different than everybody else in the main draw of Atlanta.
When asked what he would take away form the match, Pasha was candid.
“I’m not gonna freak out.”