This weekend, as the Georgia Bulldogs host the first and second rounds of the NCAA tennis tournament, they will be led by their No. 1 singles and doubles player Ethan Quinn. The Fresno, Calif., native was announced recently as SEC Freshman of the Year and was named to the all-SEC first team. Quinn is currently ranked No. 2 nationally in singles and No. 6 in doubles with partner Trent Bryde.
Here, Quinn talks about how he balances school and tennis, his acclimation to life in Athens and his relationship with one well-known Georgia alumnus.
(This interview has been edited for clarity.)
Q: During your freshman spring season, you’ve had five match-clinching victories. Does the feeling you get when you clinch a match differ every time or is it the same?
A: I would say yes, it differs every time just because there’s a different type of atmosphere. When I clinched against Kentucky, it’s hard to match that atmosphere then when you’re competing against another school that may not be as much of a rival. The rivalry with a school like Kentucky was pretty special. With 2,500 people there there was a lot of energy, so that’s definitely a bit of a difference.
Q: You have a relatively short turnaround between the SEC tournament and the NCAA one. Is there anything specific you’re working on improving from the season as a whole as you go into this tournament?
A: I’m honestly just improving to stay healthy. I mean, the last SEC tournament was a long tournament against a lot of great teams, so that was definitely a toll physically. This week, I’m really trying to manage my body, getting a lot of rest, and doing the proper recovery and rehab.
Q: You were recently recognized for your 3.7 GPA. What has the balance been like for you between tennis and school work?
A: It’s actually pretty easy. My high school really prepared me for this type of lifestyle. I was in AP courses, which kind of led me to be able to travel so much and still have to manage my work. Being in regular school, taking AP classes, you don’t really get the ability to just push stuff back, so I kind of came into college prepared and I also have a great academic staff. Beth, our academic advisor, has really helped me be able to stay on top of my school work while I’m traveling and just letting my professors know. By doing that and communicating with them, they make it a lot easier on me because they understand what I’m doing.
Q: Speaking of high school, you’re from Fresno, California. That’s quite a ways away. What made you choose Georgia, as I assume you had your fair pick of schools?
A: Honestly, it was just sitting on this exact bench. I sat down here on my visit, and I looked at the stadium and thought, ‘This just feels like home.’ The team, the coaches, all the staff really made me feel very comfortable. It just felt the most like home, which made it a really easy transition.
Q: Would you say that being someone from out of state was more difficult coming in?
A: It was probably harder, I’ll say that for sure. I came in not knowing really anyone. I knew one person, and then my team and that was about it. My first day on campus was actually the national championship last year, which was a great first day but I knew nobody. So it’s really difficult just being in a crowd and not knowing anyone. The culture change being in the south compared to the Central Valley of California is just a lot more different. There’s more Mexican food in California, whereas here it’s more Southern traditional food.
Q: If someone were coming here for (NCAA) regionals, what restaurant would you recommend they go to?
A: I’m going to give two. First, ZZ & Simone’s is my favorite if I want pasta or pizza. If I want a good piece of meat, I’d go to Slater’s, which is close. It’s new and I really like it.
Q: You mentioned you got here in January of last year. What contributed to your decision to enroll early as opposed to starting a semester later?
A: Honestly, I wasn’t getting the training that I needed when I was a senior in high school. I felt like if I came to college early, I’d be able to continue practicing at a bit higher level and working out. It also prepared me for my actual freshman season. I think the decision was great. I’ve had a great year so far. It really worked out the way I wanted it. But also, when I was here as a redshirt, I was able to play a little bit more professional tournaments and honestly be successful in those tournaments, so overall I thought it was a great decision.
Q: What would you say you’ve learned most from playing professionally that you’ve taken into your collegiate tennis play?
A: Just how to manage your own match. A lot of times when you’re playing professionally, it’s just you on the court and there’s not really a match you can really watch next to you. Whereas, in college tennis, there’s obviously so much more you can watch. There’s people playing next to you, there’s a big crowd. I’ve been able to learn over this semester to manage every single match like it’s a professional match even though there’s a lot of distractions happening. I feel like the transition from professional to college really works out well. If I’m trying to manage what my team is doing, I’m not really focused on my own match. If I’m playing like it’s a professional match, I’m able to manage my court, which overall will help the team the most.
Q: Speaking of professional tennis, have you had the chance to speak to John Isner and has he given you any advice?
A: Yeah, I actually messaged him today (April 26) because it’s his birthday and we spoke a little bit. He was just wishing us well for NCAAs and we talked a lot about the SEC championship, and how we unfortunately lost that. I met him at the U.S. Open in September of last year and I really got to chat with him about Georgia and what it’s like being a Bulldog.
Q: What do you think your future looks like for college tennis? Do you plan on playing out all four years when the NCAA championships are here in Athens?
A: I’m kind of just going with the flow. Depends on how I do over the next year or two. I would like to get my degree in sports management here. I feel like it’d be very good for after tennis. I’m doing well academically, so I’ve definitely put myself in a position to be able to graduate early if that’s what I want to do and not get a master’s degree. But for now, I’m just seeing how things happen.
Abby Halpin is a student in the Sports Media Certificate program at the University of Georgia’s Carmical Sports Media Institute.