The first time I saw Christopher Eubanks on a tennis court I nearly gasped in fear.
Here was this stick-figure – all arms and legs and a head – with a tennis racquet in his hands. I worried if he fell, the court would be littered with his shattered bones.
And, as if his lack of body mass wasn’t enough to raise doubts about whether he belonged out there with the big boys, he looked to be no older than 12!
But the 21-year-old Eubanks quickly made a believer out of me, as I watched him play his first-ever US Open match in September. He displayed a thundering serve and a booming forehand, a killer combination on the men’s pro tour.
Though he lost in straight sets to Israeli journeyman Dudi Sela, I could see how this young African-American wound up a two-time Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year and two-time All-American at Georgia Tech.
Now, Eubanks is ready to take his game to new heights. He recently announced he would forego his senior year to turn pro. At 6’7”, he should fit right in with this new generation of tennis players that is elevating the sport in more ways than one.
The Atlanta native said he made the decision after consulting with a few American pros, including fellow African American Donald Young, Ryan Harrison and Steve Johnson. He said he has no plans to alter his style of play; he just wants to improve on a game that already has garnered him some success at the next level.
“I think I’m on a pretty good progression,” Eubanks said, “and I think it would be foolish to change something that I’ve been doing when it’s been working pretty well.”
Eubanks begins his pro career with two ATP World Tour singles victories already under his belt. He reached the quarter-finals of the BB&T Atlanta Open in July, knocking off fellow Americans Taylor Fritz, dubbed the ATP Next/Gen star of the future, and Jared Donaldson, who was one of eight qualifiers for the Emirates ATP Next/Gen Finals in Milan, Italy, Nov. 7-11. It was Eubanks’ third consecutive year competing in his hometown tournament.
As a doubles player, Eubanks has an even better World Tour record at 4-3. One of those victories came at this year’s US Open, where he teamed with Christian Harrison, brother of Ryan Harrison, to win their opening match.
Eubanks has won $144,691 in prize money, with $97,110 coming this year.
A week after announcing on Oct. 23 that he was turning pro, Eubanks made it to the second round of the Charlottesville Men’s Pro Challenger, a second-tier event in Charlottesville, Va. He lost in three sets to Michael Mhoh, another promising African American among the crop of 21-and-unders dubbed ATP’s Next/Gen.
Eubanks learned tennis from his father, but he credits Donald Young for helping him develop his game and confidence. In a 2016 interview with USTA.com, Eubanks said when he was about 14, he began practicing daily with Young whose parents ran a tennis academy within close to Eubanks’ home.
Eubanks said he went through a period of doubt about his chances of reaching the next level, as he lost match after match in tournaments against older opponents.
“I was like, ‘Maybe the pros are going to be out of reach for me,’” he told USTA.com “But when I got around Donald and got better and better, I got back to, ‘Maybe I could do this one day.’”
After leading his high school team to two regional championships in 2011 and 2013, Eubanks enrolled at Georgia Tech where he played three seasons. He finished his college career with a 90-33 record in singles and 53-42 in doubles. He was 34-7 and 31-6 in singles in his sophomore and final seasons, respectively, and is the first Georgia Tech player to be named ACC player of the year twice.
For Coach Kenny Thorne, Eubanks’ legacy at Georgia Tech goes deeper than a high caliber of tennis.
“At Georgia Tech, we know and believe you can be an outstanding athlete, an incredible student and also be a person of high integrity,” Thorne said in a statement. “Chris embodied all three of these values.”
As of Nov. 13, Eubanks was ranked No. 295, thanks to his first-round victory in Charlottesville. His ATP player profile says he weighs 180 pounds. That must be fully clothed and with a couple of bricks in his pockets.
I reached out to Bob Davis, founder of the Black Tennis Museum and CEO of the Black Tennis Hall of Fame, for an assessment of this fresh face on the men’s tour.
“Quite a talent,” Davis said. “Not a big guy, but lethal ground strokes and quick as a deer.”
I guess being light on his feet will be a good thing.