It is easy to spot a gifted athlete from an early age. They dominate youth games on the basketball court, baseball field or tennis court. Determining whether or not that competitor has leadership abilities takes longer, however.
Men’s tennis captain Daniel Hoffman ’13 picked up a tennis racket, slid on a baseball glove and put on basketball shoes from an early age and “always loved sports,” but it was tennis that quickly became Hoffman’s passion. It took less than a year from when he first picked up a tennis racket at age 7 that he began playing in the United States Tennis Association (USTA) tournaments in his hometown of Menlo Park, Calif. — and winning them. An affinity for competing and defeating his opponents has left just as much of an impression on Yale tennis head coach Alex Dorato as it has on his competitors and teammates.
“He finds ways to win matches when it doesn’t seem possible,” Dorato said. “He’s like a magician!”
But Hoffman’s work on the court is not just magic. It takes hard work and determination to accumulate a team-leading 30 wins in the past two years. And while some of the more enigmatic wins are Hoffman’s favorites, the more competitive wins are some of his most memorable.
In last year’s matchup against Columbia, Hoffman underwent a grueling four-hour match in which the momentum of the game swayed back and forth between him and his opponent. Finally, after going up 5–4 in the third set, Hoffman had worn his opponent down to the point where he could no longer continue playing due to leg cramps. Yale upset Columbia 4–3.
“It was a huge upset and one of my highlights here at Yale,” Hoffman said.
Developing the determination and skill to win a match that close took Hoffman a lifetime of tennis playing.
Under the guidance and support of his coach, Nial Brash, at Menlo Circus Club, Hoffman was able to learn from Brash and improve his game consistently.
“He has not only been a great coach, but a fantastic mentor and role model,” Hoffman said. “He has been one of the biggest influences in my life.”
In addition to playing tournaments in his home state of California, Hoffman traveled to New York, Texas, Florida, Hawaii and many other locations to compete.
While it may seem mentally and physically taxing to travel and compete so regularly, it always gave Hoffman an opportunity to experience his favorite part of the game — putting together an opponents’ strengths and weaknesses like a puzzle.
“There are a lot of subtle complexities that keep that game interesting for me,” Hoffman said. “My favorite part of the game is figuring out different strategies to use against different players.”
Improving his own game has also been a rewarding process for Hoffman, Dorato said. Hoffman has been able to make an impact in doubles matchups due to his much improved volleying ability. As a result, the duo of Hoffman and partner Marc Powers ’13 has risen to become the Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s No. 19 ranked doubles pairing.
But the success of the Yale tennis program extends far beyond Yale’s top doubles pair, Hoffman said.
“We have a good mix of older and younger players contributing to our team,” Hoffman said. “I think this is the strongest team I have been on during my time at Yale.”
While Hoffman has no plans to continue playing competitively after graduation, he knows he will not be able to let go of such an integral part of his life.
“I hope to get the opportunity to join a club team in the area so that I can continue to play as I work,” Hoffman said.
In addition to a 12–8 singles record, Hoffman defeated 14 out of 18 doubles pairs in the fall alongside Powers.