This weekend the Yale men’s tennis team faced off against an assortment of Division I teams in the Wilson/Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) Northeast Regional Championships hosted by New Haven.
Although the Bulldogs did not walk away with a final victory, four men automatically went to the finals and Joel Samaha ’12 was the only freshman to win his qualifying game in order to make it to the final round.
Captain Jeff Dawson ’09 stood alone representing the Elis in the semi-finals, where he lost to Columbia’s Bogdan Borta yesterday (7-5, 6-4). Dawson’s personal matches also included a hard-fought contest in the second seed against Penn State which ended in a Dawson victory, 7-6, 7-6.
“I think I played some good tennis,” Dawson said. “I was taking one match at a time. You don’t want think too much about the future and just concentrate on the match at hand. It really comes down to who plays the big points the best.”
Playing the big points seems to be something that the men have been working towards in their practices. According to Samaha, preparation has included rigorous drills and intense lifting schedules this season. Their training on Yale’s own courts may have led the team to the victories that they were able to land this weekend.
Since the Ivy League season does not begin until the spring, the men can use tournaments like these to perfect their game. The Bulldogs’ losses this weekend, therefore, do not necessarily reflect what is to come in the approaching season.
“Overall, I’d say I was very pleased with how our team did,” head coach Alex Dorato said. “Our singles matches gave me a reason to be optimistic. Jeff played a really impressive tournament.”
In fact, it seems that Dawson’s talent on the court equals the ability he has to inspire his teammates during practices.
“Jeff does a really good job of getting everyone pumped up for the matches,” Samaha said.
It became apparent to the men during this tournament that the team possesses a close bond that is unique to the Elis. According to Samaha, Yale’s opponents seemed to be individuals playing distinct matches, whereas the Yale men all cheered each other on in the Regional matches.
“It helps that the guys don’t make a big deal about my being a freshman,” Samaha continued. “We’re all on the same level.”
This sense of unity, however, does not mean that the players do not set personal goals for themselves before each tournament.
Because tennis is such an individual sport, each player counts as much as his teammates. But there is a certain point at which team practices are secondary to personal preparation. Samaha said that his goal was to make immediate contributions to the team.
Dawson found that setting his sights on a more specific target ultimately helped his game.
“Right from the get-go I looked to attack center court and just swing away at the ball,” he said. “That helped me all the way through and now I know what I need to work on.”
While Dawson insisted that no one factor worked against the Elis this weekend, everyone on the team agreed that certain aspects of the Bulldog game need to be improved for the rest of the fall season.
“When we do work on singles we’re going to try to reduce unforced errors,” Dorato said. “But we’re going to focus almost completely on working on our doubles. They are critical to winning the Ivy League title,” Dorato said.
Hopefully the Bulldogs will be able to walk away with some home victories this weekend when they play in the Connecticut State Championships in New Haven.