Less than a month after starting classes at Georgia, freshman tennis player Tyler Zink won the U.S. Open Juniors doubles title. He was the first Bulldog since 2006 to achieve that distinction.
“I definitely visualize the level that I want to play at, and I always have a goal for myself,” the 19-year-old said. “I know what my potential is, how high my level is and I always know that I can reach it.”
Zink graduated from IMG Academy, a sprawling Florida boarding school that has trained dozens of professional tennis players. He was the No. 6 recruit in the class of 2019, according to the Tennis Recruiting Network.
After going 9-4 in singles and 10-4 in doubles as a freshman, Zink lived up to expectations, earning recognition by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association as Rookie of the Year for its southeast region.
“I was extremely honored and excited. All the hard work I put in with my dad, my coaches Manny [Diaz] and Jamie [Hunt], who have been by my side since the beginning … it’s so incredible that it’s paid off.”
Though humbled by the ITA honor, Zink was not surprised by the consideration, nor the final announcement on May 18. He's confident in both the work he puts in and the mutual understanding he shares with his coaches regarding his career ambitions.
Georgia men’s tennis assistant coach Jamie Hunt was excited for the freshman, whom he watched develop during the season as Georgia’s No. 2 and 3 singles starter.
“Tyler had a great freshman year and I think he would also be the first to say that he could have done even better,” Hunt said. “He is one of the hardest working kids that I've ever been around and has very big aspirations within the game of tennis.”
Zink also received SEC Player of the Week awards on two occasions following strong performances in February and March.
Despite the personal honors, Zink’s aspirations were as much for himself as the young Georgia team he believed was capable of postseason success.
“I was definitely aiming high, and I knew our team was good enough to win a national championship,” Zink said.
The team finished with an overall record of 9-2, going 3-0 in SEC play. With seven underclassmen to four juniors and seniors, budding talent helped push Georgia from a No. 19 national ranking at the start of the regular season to a No. 10 mark in early March.
Along the way, Zink lost three matches to players who finished the season ranked in the top-65 in the NCAA, according to the ITA. His fourth loss came against eleventh-ranked Ole Miss when he retired after taking a 5-2 lead in the first set.
“I think [Zink] knew exactly what he wanted to do, and he had a better understanding of his identity as a player,” Hunt said. “So, when those important moments came, you knew he was poised, and he was confident he knew what he wanted to do.”
Although the season came to an early ending, Zink feels lucky to have access to tennis courts near his home in Bradenton.
Whether working out at the home gym in his garage or at local courts, Zink has continued training while following proper COVID-19 precautions.
“I was playing very good tennis in the beginning of the season,” Zink said. “It was definitely tough how the season ended because I felt like I was onto something, and that my best was yet to come.”
The future remains uncertain with regards to 2020-2021 season, but the rookie standout looks forward to picking up where he left off once he’s back in Athens.