When Alexi Nazem ’04 and Mahesh Balakrishnan ’05 arrived at Yale, the two were not happy with the existing levels of competitive tennis on campus. This fall, Nazem and Balakrishnan may finally find a solution to their problem.
After two years of trying, Nazem and Balakrishnan are close to their goal of founding a club tennis team. Their application for membership is starting to go through, and the team should soon be officially recognized, though the team will not immediately receive funding.
“Between varsity and intramural, there’s this huge vacuum between quality of play and frequency of play,” Nazem said.
The intent of the club team is to fill this vacuum with fairly serious players looking for a regular playing schedule, Nazem said.
Nazem and Balakrishnan have been working on the team for two years, but until now it has been more of a “bulletin board service,” as Nazem put it, to find other players and times to play. With the help of faculty advisor Vladimir Alexandrov, a Yale professor of Russian literature and Slavic language and literature, Nazem and Balakrishnan have drafted bylaws for the team and found a coach, David Donnelly, an associate professor of pediatrics at the Yale medical school. They are now working on setting up matches with the other Ivies and have already made progress with Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania, Brown and Princeton. The five schools are hoping to have a pan-Ivy tournament sometime in the spring.
Last Friday, the team had its first practice of the fall at the outdoor courts.
“I stopped by to meet the other guys other than Mahesh and Alexi and to see their level of play,” Alexandrov said. “They were all hitting the ball well, so I expect that the club will have some good matches when they manage to arrange them with other school clubs, and I imagine that it’ll be tough for me to keep up with them if I play with them, which would be fun to try. I’m just a bit older than these guys.”
Nazem was also impressed by the level of play. He says that the team will be composed of “a lot of guys who are pretty good at tennis and just don’t have time to commit to playing at the varsity level.”
Coach Donnelly, himself a longtime player who has competed in United States Tennis Association tournaments in the 4.0 and 4.5 categories (3.0 is the beginning level; Yale’s varsity team plays around level 6.0), had similar feelings about the abilities of the team.
“My mission on this club is as a ‘coach,’ but I am not sure that they need much input from me. Helping with arranging court time and other logistical support will probably be my main role,” he said.
The team will continue to hit casually for two more practices, and then begin ladder matches to determine who will play what position on the team and to establish a ranking system. Of the 30 to 35 people who showed interest in playing, 7 to 10 will play in actual matches.
As its season picks up, the team will search for other opponents outside of the Ivy League. Nazem cited teams from University of New Haven and Quinnipiac, and Balakrishnan mentioned the possibility of playing junior varsity teams in the area. Yale’s team will also invite graduate students and faculty to play in matches at practice, though neither group is eligible to play in tournaments.
The biggest problem facing the team at this point seems to be the lack of access to indoor courts. Larry Matthews, the Associate Director for Sports and Recreation, said that the Athletics Department is working on finding indoor court time for the team, but Alexandrov pointed out that with just four indoor courts at the Cullman facility, it is virtually impossible to get court time between October and April.
Overall, there seems to be a lot of enthusiasm surrounding the new team.
“I love tennis — it’s my favorite sport,” Nazem said. “There’s absolutely no good reason for [not having a club team] and that’s why we started one.”