As the blustery winds picked up outside the Cullman Courts, the women’s tennis team worked up a glistening sweat. They displayed their spring-break tans in front of the largest home crowds so far this season, facing daunting Ivy opponents in the University of Pennsylvania and Princeton University. But the high-spirited atmosphere in the viewing gallery slowly deflated as the Bulldogs (8-4, 0-2 Ivy), who were poised on both days to turn out victories, suffered back-to-back 4-3 losses.
“The matches really were on our rackets both days, and those kind of losses are the hardest to accept,” Andrea Goldberg ’02 said.
The women in blue had momentum in their favor against Penn (9-5, 2-0) as they captured the doubles point handily with success in the No. 1 and No. 3 spots. Goldberg paired with Biffy Kaufman ’03 to win 8-5 against Rachel Skweky and Alice Pirsu, while teammates Liz Oosterhuis ’02 and Susie Hiniker ’02 made quick work of Sanela Kunovac and Katherine Williams with a score of 8-1. The Bulldogs had not dropped a game all season in which they secured the doubles point.
Victory seemed imminent as Margaret Purcell ’04, Kaufman and Hiniker opened their singles matches by each taking the first set. But Penn, a perennial tennis powerhouse, battled back to validate its Ivy-best No. 46 ranking. A high number of unforced errors and inability to close out points proved to be a disastrous formula for Yale.
Purcell, penciled in at the top of the lineup, faced off against No. 17 ranked Alice Pirsu, a Romanian phenom who was once seeded No. 24 in the junior world circuit. The two engaged in a grueling match, lengthened further by exhausting rallies. Purcell’s knack for turning on the ball and her quick hands forced Pirsu to react hastily and slice her shots into the net. The players split the first two sets, with Pirsu prevailing in the third set super-tiebreaker, 6-4.
In the entertaining No. 2 singles, Kaufman served up against Kunovac, a player in the mold of John McEnroe. Kaufman’s unflappable approach to the game helped her stay back on the ball and remain calm, providing a cool answer for every shot. Greatly aggravated by Kaufman’s superb placement, Kunovac vocalized her frustration throughout Kaufman’s 6-4, 6-3 victory.
“Kunovac’s the kind of player who likes a lot of pace on the ball, so I really tried to throw off her rhythm by mixing in a lot of slices, angles and drop shots,” Kaufman said.
Yale was leading 2-1 at this juncture and playing doggedly. In a far court, Hiniker was up 4-1 in the second set after taking the first 6-2. Hiniker and Nicole Ptak then engaged in a series of close games that went in the Quaker’s favor, boosting Ptak’s confidence as she fought back to take the second set 7-5 and the tiebreaker 6-3.
“[Ptak] is a very, very good player and brought her level of play up,” Hiniker said. “I didn’t really lose the match — she won it.”
Playing in the middle of the lineup, Goldberg’s quick feet and great court coverage helped her handle Quaker Raluca Ciulei’s drop shots. Though Goldberg remained fiery throughout, she lost 6-3, 6-4.
At the No. 6 spot, a 6-3, 6-1 loss to Rachel Skweky put an end to Stephanie White’s ’05 seven game winning streak.
Oosterhuis provided Yale with the other singles victory against Shelah Chao. Though the Quakers were already given the team win, the Bulldogs displayed their solidarity by sitting on a neighboring court, encouraging their captain to a 6-4, 2-2, 10-4 win.
Though history, rankings and statistics made Yale the underdog, the team felt this year that they had the proper blend of talent and verve to overtake Penn.
“As a senior, it is heartbreaking to lose to a team when we should have beaten them,” Goldberg said. “This is the first year I can remember where I felt during the match like we were going to beat Penn.”
Saturday gave the Bulldogs an opportunity to redeem the crushing loss as they hosted Princeton (5-7, 1-2).
Falling in two of the three doubles matches to lose the doubles point, a mishap that had occurred only twice all season for the Bulldogs, turned out to be crucial, as coming in on top in four of the six singles matches proved too difficult a challenge.
Purcell faced her fourth nationally ranked opponent of the season in No. 69 Kavitha Krishnamurthy, who handed the Bulldog a 7-6, 6-1 loss. Playing second, Kaufman, who has not faltered in 12 singles matches this season, kept her record perfect with a laborious 4-6, 7-6, 7-6 win against Kristi Watson.
Oosterhuis, another Yalie on a hot streak, was pitted against Jackie Arcario, a familiar opponent whom she had most recently defeated in October at Princeton. The Bulldog senior cruised to a 6-1, 6-3 victory and combined with Hiniker’s dominating 6-0, 6-3 performance over Stephanie Berg, the pressure fell on Goldberg and White to come through. Though both stretched their matches to a third set, the Tigers outlasted Yale.
The toughest weekend in the Bulldog schedule ended with two harrowing losses that place them in the basement of the Ivy standings.
“At the end of the day it means nothing to have been ‘close’ to winning a match or to beating a team,” Goldberg said.
After the anger and disappointment settled in the clubhouse, the Eli women knew what they had to do for Tuesday’s home match against Brown.
“Our team’s morale is a little low, but we’re fired up for redemption in our next matches,” Hiniker said. “We’re playing well, we just need to put it together, and I think we’re hungry for a win.”