By the numbers, Brandon Wai ’07 is the best men’s tennis player in the Ivy League. Ranked 51st in the country, best in the Ancient Eight, he ended last season 31-8 in singles play and boasts an 8-2 singles record so far this year. For an Eli team seeking to improve on last spring’s 2-5 Ivy performance, Wai’s success will be key.
The Bulldogs had the kind of success they were looking for this weekend, the kind of success that makes them hopeful for a better conference campaign next spring. And Wai was 3,000 miles away.
Despite missing two starters, the Elis still cruised to victory over Cornell in the Army Invitational, winning 5-2 and sweeping the top four singles spots. Doubles play went well against Army, as the Bulldogs picked up two of the three matches but lost four of the seven singles matches. While a mock dual match with Penn State did not end in Yale victory, players and head coach Alex Dorato said they were pleased with the team’s play and are hopeful for the spring season.
Out in Los Angeles, Wai picked his way through the early rounds of the USC Invitational, but fell to Arkansas’s Blake Strode in the semifinals.
Despite losing Wai to the USC tournament and fellow starter Rowan Reynolds ’06 to a temporary infection, from which he has already recovered, the team played particularly well at the top positions. Milosz Gudzowski ’06 stepped up to the number one position and managed to win all three of his singles matches.
“Milosz won all three of his matches, which is pretty amazing considering the level of competition at the number one spot,” captain Matthew Feldman ’06 said.
Dorato, who attended the USC Invitational with Wai, said Gudzowski’s victory was especially sweet given the senior’s recent loss to a Nittany Lion.
“Gudzowski had a great tournament,” he said. “He beat a guy from Penn State that he lost to two weeks ago, which was a nice bit of revenge.”
Chris Lawler ’07 said Jeff Dawson ’09, who assumed the number two spot normally held by Reynolds, also rose to the occasion.
“He won in a tight three-set match and was playing really well by the end too,” Lawler said.
Dawson was 2-0 in his singles matches. Dorato said he held Dawson to only two games due to an arm strain, even though he said the injury was minor and did not affect Dawson’s play.
Eli star Wai, coming off of quarterfinals victories in the ECAC Invitational and UVA Invitational backdraw, played in the USC Invitational with a number three seed against what Lawler called some of the toughest competition in the country. Dorato said Wai’s play improved throughout the tournament.
“The first couple rounds he was not playing well, but still won,” Dorato said. “In the semifinals, it was the best match he played.”
After defeating Will Shaw of North Carolina State University in straight sets Friday, 6-4, 6-1, Wai took on Scott Robertson of Jackson State Saturday, winning, 6-4, 6-4. His game improved demonstrably by the quarterfinals, where he dominated Seo-Jae Chang of Hampton, 6-1, 6-0.
But Wai’s winning streak came to an end Sunday when he dropped his semifinal match, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, against Strode, ranked 15th in the nation and the eventual tournament victor. Dorato said Wai was Strode’s hardest test.
“Brandon gave him the best match of the tournament,” Dorato said.
For the Bulldogs, the most important story to come out of West Point was the doubles success. Typically a weak point in the Eli arsenal, doubles were 2-1 against Army and 2-2 against Penn State, even without Wai and Reynolds leading the way. Lawler said the team tried different combinations that started to work out by the end.
Rory Green ’08 and Michael Caldwell ’09 won, 8-6, at number one over Army, while Dawson and Gudzowski played to an 8-4 win. Sunday’s matches against Penn State were led by Green and Lawler at number one in an eventful match. Down 7-4 at one point, the two managed to bring the match to an eight-all tie. It took 30 points, but the Bulldog pair eventually came out on top in the tiebreaker, 16-14.
“It was probably the most exciting college tennis match I’ve ever been in,” Lawler said. “This match didn’t mean that much, but it shows the fight that we have. We’re not willing to lose even a not very important tournament match.”
The Elis said their success without the two starters bodes well for the team’s future in the Ivy season, which starts in the spring. Penn State had beaten the Bulldogs 6-1 during the quarterfinals of the ECAC Invitational, but this weekend the Nittany Lions were held to a 4-3 win. Dorato said he is pleased with the team’s success and hopes it will continue.
“It’s giving the team a lot of confidence that we can beat any team in the Ivy League,” he said.
Yale next travels to Hanover, N.H. for the ITA Eastern Regionals. Dorato said he thinks Wai will be the best player there and is capable of winning the tournament, and he thinks other members of the team should succeed as well.
“I think there will be guys on the team who can knock off any one of the players there,” he said.