Tennis | Great expectations

As both the men’s and women’s tennis teams prepare for fall invitationals, fans can expect to see some new faces out on the courts. The men’s team, which finished with a 3-4 record in Ivy League play last spring, adds two new recruits — Joel Samaha ’12 and Erik Blumenkranz ’12 — both armed with booming serves and promising doubles skill. On the women’s side, the 2008 Ivy League Champions welcome an enthusiastic import from England, Victoria Brook ’12. This weekend, the men travel to their second tournament, the Princeton Invitational in New Jersey, while the women begin their preseason with a trip to the Cissie Leary Invitational in Philadelphia. Here’s a first look at the new players to wear Eli blue and how they plan to help capture — or keep — the Ivy League title.

Joel Samaha ’12

Erik Blumenkram '12
Murphy Temple
Erik Blumenkram '12

Tampa, Fla.

During a practice game of doubles, Joel Samaha ’12, a 6-foot-6-inch star known for his crushing serve, got a signal from his partner, former Yale tennis captain Rory Green ’08, to serve the ball out wide.

But Samaha mishit — right into the side of Green’s face.

Terrified that he had sealed his fate with a notoriously “intense” Bulldog alum, Samaha quickly regrouped and heeded Green’s words: “Just,” he rasped, “serve the ball.”

Of course, Samaha knew what he was getting into. During the recruitment process, he said his prospects were Yale, Dartmouth, Princeton and Stanford, the last of which is the favorite to win nationals this year.

Samaha said that after visiting Yale and being welcomed into the close-knit team, the Bulldog jersey was one he needed to wear.

“The guys on the team are the reason I chose Yale,” he said.

A tribute to his modesty, the tan Floridian said nothing more about his high school tennis trajectory than a terse “I was always highly ranked in singles.” But having won the USTA Florida State Doubles Championship earlier this month, Samaha may prove to be a real asset to the Yale squad, which often struggled to pick up the doubles point last season.

Although he has grappled with elbow and shoulder injuries in the recent past, Samaha said he is ready to dive into the tournament season in order to earn a solid spot on the team lineup.

“[Both freshmen] are real class acts,” captain Jeff Dawson ’09 said. “They add great depth and will be a force to be reckoned with this year.”

Erik Blumenkranz ’12

Portola Valley, Calif.

“Hey, Erik, tell me why you can’t close out a match?” new teammate Joel Samaha ’12 teased.

After playing seven matches — one unfavorably decided after five match points and another an upset after winning the first set 6-0 — this past weekend at the USTA Men’s Tennis Invitational in Flushing, N.Y., Erik Blumenkranz ’12 said he was a little tired. A little under the weather.

But the Californian didn’t allow a few tough matches to dampen his enthusiasm for the upcoming season: “Our goal is to win the Ivy League,” he said with confidence.

The championship bid has been long in the making for Blumenkranz, who said he first picked up a racket at age five as he tagged along to practice with his older brother, who later played for Brown.

Blumenkranz said the recruitment process, for him, was a no-brainer: He said Yale was his top choice and was only more convinced when he instantly clicked with the other guys on the team. He gladly recalled early practices organized by Dawson, sneaking into the massive Pilot Pen tennis stadium, “constant” jokes from teammate Josh Lederman ’09 and recurrently being confused with fellow freshman Samaha (“We’re just the two tall guys.”).

“I am pretty sure we are the closest team in the Ivy League,” he said of his new 11-member family. “It’s a fine dynamic; it’s going to be good this year.”

Victoria Brook ’12

London, England

No more than a few weeks into the practice schedule, Victoria Brook ’12 is already gushing about Yale tennis.

When she laid eyes on the renovated Cullman-Heyman Tennis Center, for example, Brook said she literally teared up.

“It was overwhelming that I will be representing this place and this team,” the Brit said, her eyes wide.

Members of the women’s team strut around campus wearing their newly minted Ivy League Championship rings from their undefeated Ivy season last year — the only Ivy League title won by Yale last year. But newbie Brook, a recruit who committed to Yale last October, said she can’t wait to earn a share of that glory.

With a team of only eight players this year — most teams boast as many as 11 — the Bulldogs will have to derive strength from every last player.

But the enthusiastic blonde said she is ready for the fight; she is already trash-talking Harvard, despite having a sister who used to play for the Crimson tennis team.

Brook played juniors in the Australian Open in 2006 and this year in Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. She said she is used to playing in front of large crowds and is prepared for whatever pressure the Ivy League has in store.

Both captain Lilian Nguyen ’09 and head coach Danielle Lund-McNamara said “Vicky” is a strong recruit who is more than ready for college play.

Brook considered going pro at 16, but an ankle injury stalled her plans.

“But I haven’t shut the door either,” she said. “My dream is to go pro.”

Brook said she plans to take a year off after graduation to enter the professional circuit.

“I’ll have a one-up on the players scrapping for money,” she said, “because I am going to a frickin’ good school.”

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