Tennis’ Berke bides time until injury subsides

Steve Berke ’03 reclines on the couch in his apartment in jeans and a t-shirt, anticipating his future victories as a tennis professional.

“I owned [Roddick] all through juniors,” said Berke, who faced No. 10 Andy Roddick while the two were teenagers. “I cannot wait to beat him again next year and show him that I still own him.”

That kind of confidence, combined with a wicked forehand and a strong serve, has propelled Berke to numerous accomplishments in his last three years at Yale. His freshman year he made Second Team All-Ivy and then took a year off from school to compete in tournaments such as the Junior French Open. Berke returned his sophomore year and tore up the competition, making college tennis history as the only unseeded player to ever make the quarterfinals of the NCAA singles tournament. For his unprecedented efforts at the tournament, Berke earned All-American honors and by the beginning of his junior year was No. 42 among college players.

This year, however, Berke has gone three months without stepping on the court because of a herniated disc in his back. Berke is undergoing rehab and expects a return to competitive play sometime this winter.

This is not the first time that Berke’s health has kept him out of the action while at Yale. He came in freshman year with a case of mononucleosis, which kept him in bed for most of the first month of the fall semester. This affected his play significantly, and caused him to be lower in the lineup than he would have liked by the time the spring season started.

But hard work paid off, and Berke eventually moved up to the No. 3 spot on the team, where he ended up winning all of his Ivy League matches in singles. Additionally, he paired with Gabe Goldstein ’02 in doubles, and ended up filling the No. 1 slot for the team by the end of the season.

“When you play with him, he makes you a better player,” Goldstein said. “He does a great job covering the net, and it makes you more relaxed to play with a player as good as him.”

Berke decided to take a year off after his freshman year to play satellite tournaments in Europe. He competed in the junior divisions of both Wimbledon and the French Open. While on the tour, he played against such notables as James Blake. The challenge of the junior pro tour, however, was not enough to keep Berke from continuing his education. He subsequently returned to Yale in the fall of 2000.

“I could have stayed on the tour and not gone back to school,” said Berke, “But I knew that I needed time to mature and gain more physical strength if I really wanted to be successful.”

Upon his return to Yale, however, Berke encountered some difficulty in resuming his tennis endeavors with the Bulldogs. While on the tour, Berke failed to sign some amateur waivers before tournaments and accepted some prize money. After three weeks of debate, the NCAA decided to suspend Berke from five tournaments, before he would be eligible to play for Yale again.

Berke came off his suspension with a new vigor. He racked up a 19-4 record his sophomore year, and he earned the title of Ivy League Player of the Year, as well as becoming an All-American. Berke lost in the NCAA tournament to Georgia’s Matias Boeker, who won the 2001 and 2002 singles championship.

After the success of his sophomore year, Berke came into the 2001-02 season ranked No. 42 in the country, looking to improve on his already outstanding accomplishments. But the season schedule began to wear on Berke, who suffered shin splints at two points during the season.

Now in 2002, the men’s tennis team is hoping that Berke will return to the same form that helped him earn a berth in the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament.

“If he is healthy, I think he could win the NCAA championship,” head coach Alex Dorato said. “We definitely have an ace in the hole at every match with such an accomplished athlete in the lineup.”

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