Whoever said that tennis wasn’t a team sport hasn’t talked to the men’s tennis team.

Though the season is hardly a week old, the Elis have already established a clear and recognizable bond that they believe will work to strengthen not only friendships, but also the overall quality of play.

“We’re a really close team this year,” captain Ryan Murphy ’05 said. “I think that this year everyone is committed to the same goals. There aren’t any problems — everyone is truly committed to winning as a team.”

Head coach Alex Dorato has noticed the same rise in the level of team cohesion as Murphy has, and he, too, believes that this will help the Bulldogs excel this season.

“The team spirit is the highest I’ve seen in years,” Dorato said. “All the guys seem to get along very well, and they respect each other. And there’s good senior leadership.”

Last season’s 3-4 record in the Ivies certainly left something to be desired. But this season’s prospects may be looking up. Increased team unity and the fact that other traditionally strong Ivy teams graduated key players could push the Bulldogs into winning territory.

“We’re a very close team this year,” Murphy said. “I think a lot of other teams lost a lot of key people, especially Harvard, so there’s no dominant team in the Ivies. I think especially in the Ivy League things are going to be really close. If we work hard, play well and all of those cliches, we have a good chance of doing really well this year.”

Stepping off the hard courts at the end of last spring did not mean a three-month hiatus from tennis. Many of the players honed their skills over the summer — Murphy, Rowan Reynolds ’06 and Chris Lawler ’07 traveled to California together to play future-pro tournaments for three weeks. When they returned to campus, the Bulldogs jumped back onto the Cullman Courts, although official practices did not begin until Sept. 7.

“The intensity at practice this year has been much greater than it was last year,” Lawler said. “Everyone seems like they care a lot more — it’s not an individual thing. The guys put the team first. There’s also a lot of conditioning outside of practice. Even before the season started, when everyone got back we all started playing every day even though we didn’t have to.”

One aspect of the season that the Bulldogs are working hardest on — and are most anxious about — is doubles. Last year, the Elis struggled to put together successful teams that would garner the important point for the team in competition. Combination after combination of talented players proved ineffective, but toward the end of the spring, Dorato seemed to have found winning teams. Luckily, two of the teams he found — Reynolds/Murphy and Brandon Wai ’07/Lawler — consisted of returning players who very well may compose the numbers one and two doubles teams this year.

“We have to improve our doubles,” Dorato said. “But I think we have a pretty solid foundation based on returning players from last year’s doubles teams.”

Perhaps the fact that the team is concentrating on doubles so early in the season will lead to doubles teams that can far outshine the teams of last season. The team has set “amelioration in doubles skills” and “winning two out of three doubles contests each match” as some of their most important goals for the season.

“Before [this season], you’d play and then if there was a problem you’d fix it,” Murphy said. “This year, we’re practicing from the get-go. Last year, one of our biggest problems was that we couldn’t find people who meshed very well [as doubles teams] until close to the end of the season.”

Setting goals has become one of the most important aspects of this season.

“We’ve been working a lot on setting goals for every day in practice, goals for the short-term, goals for the season,” Murphy said. “We’ve been a lot more goal-oriented this year and we’re going to achieve our goals.”

Every day at practice, each player picks one thing to work on, and Murphy said everyone pushes each other and encourages each other to keep working hard.

At this point, however, the team is plagued by injuries. Lawler recently tore his abdominal muscle and is undergoing electric stimulation. Reynolds has a left knee injury, and Will Vidal ’06 has an injured shoulder. The players on the injured list do not know when they will be able to return to the courts, and, probably, they will not be able to compete in the Princeton Invitational this coming weekend — Dorato said he will bring all of his “healthy” players. Right now, everyone is focusing on recovering and preparing for the two big fall tournaments, the ECACs and the ITAs.

“I think we have incredible potential this year,” Reynolds said. “We have a great leader in Ryan [Murphy] and he’s playing quite well. Brandon Wai is looking strong. Both freshmen seem to be fitting in nicely. We’re working hard so it should be interesting to see how things turn out this fall.”

[ydn-legacy-photo-inline id=”17446″ ]