In his four years of playing in the number one singles position for the Georgetown men’s tennis team, senior Daniel Khanin has balanced the pressures of leading his team both on and off the court.
The only freshman on the team when he arrived at Georgetown and now the only senior on the 12-athlete men’s squad, Khanin has stepped into two critical roles at both ends of his career: that of a talented underclassmen with potential for greatness, and that of a visible leader with the maturity needed to guide a new group of promising freshmen.
The Baldwin, N.Y., native — a three-star recruit — attended Bollettieri Academy, a tennis-training academy located in Bradenton, Fla. Khanin was one of 135 students in Bollettieri’s Class of 2012 who went on to commit to top athletic programs at universities across the country.
From the beginning, Head Coach Gordie Ernst knew that Khanin’s athletic ability was a major asset to the team’s success.
“He’s had to log the pressure in bookends,” Ernst said of the progression of Khanin’s career. “He’s good enough to play high in the lineup, so it wasn’t like I just threw him up there as a freshman. … He’s always had that ability and that talent that other guys just don’t have.”
Khanin stepped into the number one singles slot during the spring of his freshman season and has posted impressive results in both singles and doubles play ever since. Ernst said he has watched Khanin’s individual play improve over his four years, and that his wins and close losses to tough opponents show both natural ability and a willingness to improve upon his skill set.
“He volleys better now, he serves better. … He can hit the ball with anyone. He’s that good of a ball striker, and that’s a big statement,” Ernst said.
Even more significant than his technical improvements has been Khanin’s ability to lead the team, particularly through example. Khanin’s leadership skills have helped him to develop strong relationships with the younger players on the team as well as encourage his teammates during competition.
“He’s a pretty quiet guy, but at the same time because of that, when he does speak and when he does get fired up about something, people listen. … It’s not how much you say, it’s what you say and how you listen as well. He’s a good listener,” Ernst said.
Khanin has had several notable wins throughout his career, one of which was his victory over George Washington’s Francisco Dias, who graduated this past May. Dias finished his career as the all-time singles leader in wins with 87. Dias was No. 8 in the Atlantic region singles ranking his senior year at GWU.
“[Dias] was a hell of a player — probably the best guy in the Atlantic 10 last year,” Ernst said.
In Georgetown’s 5-2 loss to George Washington in 2014, Khanin notched the Hoyas’ only singles win against Dias in a three-set battle concluding in a 7-6(5), 1-6, 6-4 finish.
Since he is the one athlete on the roster that has played for Ernst the longest, Khanin plays a key role as an alternate captain in relaying goals to the team and helping his teammates to reach them.
“The coach tells me and the other captains what he wants us to do for the week, for the month and our goals for the season, and then we relay those goals to the team and make sure everyone is on the same page,” Khanin said. “We schedule practices [and] extra hits for whoever needs them before matches and just [make] sure everyone is really happy with where their game is and ready for every match every weekend.”
With two new talented freshmen — Michael Chen and Will Sharton — climbing the ranks, as well as the team’s tight-knit relationship, Khanin said that he primarily uses his experience to encourage his teammates and create a positive experience for them on the team.
“The dynamic isn’t really that different than it has been in the past when we’ve had more than one senior because we’re such a close team and we’re always together on and off the court,” Khanin said. “I don’t really think me being the only senior affects the dynamic of the team, but I definitely try to lead by example on the court and off the court as well.”
As he enters his final year at Georgetown, Khanin’s overarching goal is for Georgetown to win the Big East title, which he thinks would be the ideal ending to his college athletic career.
“Everything we do in the season is great, but that would obviously be the ultimate end to the season and [my] career at Georgetown,” Khanin said. “Of course, every match counts, we want to win every match we play, but it’s hard not to look ahead.”
The men’s tennis team will continue regular season play today against Navy in Annapolis, Md., at 7 p.m.