Until this semester, All-American Steve Berke ’03 was one of the best tennis players in the Ivy League. Now Berke no longer competes in the Ancient Eight.
After completing the fall semester in New Haven, the former Yale tennis star transferred to the University of California at Berkeley to finish his collegiate tennis career.
Berke announced his decision to leave Yale at a team gathering at Mory’s in December. In a prepared statement, Berke said he left Yale because he was dissatisfied with the tennis program.
Berke already has been competing for the Golden Bears this spring. Athletes who transfer must sit out a year from competition, according to NCAA regulations. But Berke did not compete for the past 12 months because of an injury, allowing him to become a part of the Berkeley roster immediately. Although Berke will compete for the Bears this spring instead of the Bulldogs, he will still earn a Yale degree. He has one credit to complete, which he will finish this summer.
Former teammate Rowan Reynolds ’06 said the entire tennis team was shocked by Berke’s decision. After Berke declared his transfer intentions, team members sat in silence for five minutes in Mory’s, Reynolds said.
The 6-foot-2-inch, 185-pound right-hander was nationally ranked No. 45 by the International Tennis Association in the preseason. Berke was expected to play No. 1 for Yale this spring if his health permitted.
When asked about Berke’s decision to switch schools for his final college semester, Yale men’s tennis head coach Alex Dorato said Berke wanted a more competitive program.
“Steve [Berke] told me he was leaving Yale because he wanted to play on a team that had a shot at winning the national title,” Dorato said in an e-mail over winter break. “He thought at Berkeley he had an excellent chance to do that.”
But in the prepared statement, Berke revealed different reasoning for his university switch.
“The three and a half years I spent at Yale were the best years of my life. Unfortunately, the experience I received playing on the tennis team tarnished these years,” Berke said in the statement.
“Coming into the Yale tennis program, I expected to be provided with knowledgeable coaching and valuable training. Unfortunately, the program did not provide either of these things. Intending to become a professional, I felt it was best for my career to seek those opportunities elsewhere,” Berke said.
Berke never lost an Ivy League match during his sophomore year. Injuries kept him away from competition for much of junior year and the autumn portion of this year’s schedule. In the statement, Berke blamed Dorato for his injuries.
“Furthermore, the head coach forced me to play matches while I was seriously injured, causing me to be out of tennis for 6 months. I hope my speaking out awakens the University to a very serious problem that exists within the Yale tennis program,” Berke said.
After reading Berke’s statement, Dorato said Berke’s accusations were unfounded.
“Any implications that I acted in any unprofessional manner towards Steve [Berke] while he was in the program is absolutely untrue,” Dorato said.
Reynolds said he disagreed with Berke’s sentiments about Dorato and the Yale tennis program.
“Steve [Berke] and Coach Dorato had personalities that just did not mesh,” Reynolds said. “He is still a good coach, and he has never shown any unkindness towards me in my time in the program.”
Berke’s switch to the nationally ranked No. 9 Golden Bears is slowly developing. California knocked off nationally ranked No. 4 Stanford 4-3 on Feb. 1. Berke played No. 1 doubles with California’s Robert Kowalczyk, losing to Stanford’s nationally ranked No. 3 doubles team of David Martin and Scott Lipsky. In singles action, Berke played in the No. 5 position, falling to Stanford’s James Pade 6-2, 6-0.
Meanwhile, Yale beat Boston College 7-0 Saturday. Berke’s profile already appears on the Berkeley men’s tennis Web page and no longer lies on Yale’s Athletics Department Web site.