While the weather in New Haven was sunny and warm, a dark cloud traveled to New York with the men’s tennis team this past weekend.
The Bulldogs (15-4, 2-3 Ivy) suffered devastating losses at both Columbia (12-4, 4-1 Ivy) 3-4 and Cornell (13-5, 2-3 Ivy) 2-5, crushing their hopes of winning the Ivy League title.
“We recognized that we couldn’t afford another loss,” Scott Carlton ’01 said. “After Columbia we knew we were out of contention.”
The Bulldogs first traveled to New York City Friday to take on last year’s Ivy champs, the Lions of Columbia.
Playing in horrendous conditions — the Columbia facilities are less than spectacular — the Eli squad fought hard and in the beginning their prospects looked good.
The Bulldogs first took the courts in doubles competition looking to secure the all-important doubles point. The No. 1 team of Steve Berke ’03 and Dustin West ’04 lost their match 8-3, but Ryan Coyle ’02 and Carlton tamed their Lion opponents in an 8-5 win at the No. 3 position.
All attention then turned to the remaining doubles match at the No. 2 slot where Captain Greg Royce ’01 and David Goldman ’04 were struggling through a tough tiebreaker. Down 1-5, the Eli duo made an amazing comeback to win 8-6 in the breaker and secure a 1-0 Bulldog lead.
In singles play, the Eli squad tried to continue this momentum, and at one point during the match the Bulldogs held a 3-2 lead.
Yale’s top singles player, Berke, defeated his opponent 6-1, 4-6, 6-2, and Royce won 7-6, 6-3 at the No. 3 position. Carlton and Goldman, however, both lost at the No. 2 and No. 4 positions 6-3, 6-3 and 6-3, 6-2, respectively.
The Bulldogs only needed to win one of the two remaining matches at the No. 5 and No. 6 positions to leave New York City with a win under their belt. Unfortunately, they were unable to do so.
Chris Shackelton ’02, after winning the first set 6-1, lost the next two 6-1, 6-4 at the No. 5 slot against Steve Millerman — Columbia’s top singles player last year — while Andrew Rosenfeld ’04 fell 6-3, 6-3 at the No. 6 position.
“It was a well fought match,” Royce said. “We are a better team than Columbia. It’s just really hard to beat them away.”
Columbia benefits from an overwhelmingly large home court advantage. Their matches are held at an indoor-clay facility, the only of its kind in the league. They have four courts in two connecting bubbles and no spectator viewing area. Fans sit on top of the doubles sidelines and literally relinquish their seats to the players on changeovers. The courts themselves aren’t even regulation size, since the slant of the bubble reduces the space of the side and back courts.
“We knew what to expect going into the match. We’ve played there before,” Royce said. “But they definitely have a huge advantage in home matches.”
After this second Ivy loss of their season, the Eli team knew they were out of the championship contention.
When they boarded their bus to Ithaca after this disappointing loss to the Lions, the Bulldogs left their mental game behind and, as a result, lost to a weaker team Saturday.
“Our team morale was pretty low after being mathematically eliminated from winning the Ivies,” Berke said. “We weren’t pumped up enough to play.”
The Bulldogs lost 5-2 to the Big Red of Cornell, a team that the Elis were expected to decisively beat.
The No. 1 duo of Berke and West were the lone winners in the doubles competition. The only Yale points of the day came from Berke, who defeated Mike Halperin — last year’s Ivy Player of the Year — 6-1, 6-1, and Goldman, who won 5-7, 6-3, 6-4 at the No. 4 position.
Other matches were extremely close. Carlton, Shackelton and Rosenfeld all fell in three sets at the No. 2, No. 5 and No. 6 positions, respectively.
“Cornell came out there really ready to play,” Berke said. “We just didn’t want it enough.”
Although their season goal of winning the Ancient Eight Title is out of reach, the Bulldogs are still determined to end their season on a high note.
“We know that we are a better team than our record these past few weeks indicates,” Royce said. “Now we need to go in with a positive attitude and salvage our season.”
The Bulldogs play out their season this upcoming weekend when they take on Harvard — the only undefeated team in the Ivy League — Friday and Dartmouth Sunday.
While the Bulldogs expect to defeat the Big Green handily, they anticipate a battle with the No. 38 nationally ranked Crimson.
The Bulldogs lost to their rivals from Cambridge 1-6 last year and are seeking revenge. Harvard, on the other hand, can clinch the Ivy title with a win over Yale, the toughest team remaining on their schedule. A Bulldog victory over the Crimson would result in a shared title between Harvard and either Columbia or Princeton.
“We know we can beat Harvard. We’ve known it all season,” Royce said. “We will have a very respectable season with wins this weekend.”
The Eli squad faces Harvard this Friday at 2:30 on the courts behind Smilow Field House. On Sunday, the team will have to listen to Ben Harper in their van as it travels to Hanover to play their final match of the season.