Brandon Wai ’07 made history this weekend.
Wai became the first Eli to ever win the Division A singles title at the Princeton Invitational men’s tennis tournament, which has been in existence for 36 years. Wai defeated Princeton’s Darius Craton 6-2, 7-5 in the finals on Sunday morning.
“You can’t let a Princeton guy win his own tournament,” Wai said. “I came out pretty well and everything worked out. I had [captain] Ryan [Murphy ’05] supporting me on the side, which helped a lot. And [head coach] Alex [Dorato] did a great job talking to me on changeovers.”
This year’s rendition, which took place this past Friday, Saturday and Sunday in Princeton, N.J., included Columbia, the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton and a few other non-Ivy schools.
Wai attributed his historic victory partially to the rigorous training that strength coach Mike Ranfone put the team through and the excellent coaching of Dorato and assistant coach Joe Roediger.
Wai was not the only Bulldog to see success this weekend. Murphy, who also played in the Division A singles bracket, advanced to the semi-finals where Craton defeated him in a tough three-set match, finally taking the third set 6-3. Milosz Gudzowski ’06 had the No. 1 seed in the Division B bracket and won his first two matches, but withdrew because of an injured Achilles tendon.
“It was a little disappointing that I couldn’t finish out because I felt that I was a favorite and I had a good chance of winning,” Gudzowski said. “But I’m really happy with how the team did because it’s a team sport. I’m happy the other guys did well, especially Brandon [Wai] and Ryan [Murphy]. We had two of the top three players in the tournament.”
Other members of the team excelled in the tournament as well. Though Dorato still calls the doubles teams “make-shift” due to all of the injured players, some newly-formed doubles teams had great success. Despite dropping their first round match to Penn in the Division C doubles category, Gudzowski and Andrew Arons ’05 still drew praise from Dorato for their level of play. Matt Feldman ’06 and Joe Vellanikaran ’08 won the D Division doubles bracket.
“We had excellent results in the D Division [of doubles],” Dorato said. “Our freshmen have improved a lot, and I think our improving players are really coming through. Matt Feldman was playing great, and — I expected this out of Joe [Vellanikaran].”
Like Wai, Feldman and Vellanikaran had to beat a Princeton team to win the final round, which they did 8-5 (doubles matches are often played in 8-game pro-sets; whichever team wins eight games first with a two game margin wins).
“We had played once together in practice and it wasn’t too good, but then we got it together this tournament,” Feldman said of his pairing with Vellanikaran. “Joe played really well. He carried us when the points got big and he stepped it up — We both return pretty well so we were able to keep [our opponents] on the defensive so they couldn’t hit volleys.”
One of the most important elements of the weekend was the support that each member of the team offered to everyone else.
“I think that everyone was not only cheering everyone else on but really helping everyone as much as they could,” Murphy said. “Obviously the bright spot was Brandon [Wai] winning, but it was a really good team atmosphere. We get along well.”
Another important aspect of the weekend was giving players without much match experience valuable court time.
“I think we have some players that are better than the guys on other teams [like Penn, Princeton and Columbia],” Murphy said. “I feel like those will be tough matches, but if we got some guys some more experience and confidence we’ll be alright. We have talented players, and this weekend was really good for us because a lot of the guys got more matches and were put in pressure situations.”
The Bulldogs’ main focus this week will be preparing for next weekend’s Yale Invitational. The preparation will include on and off court elements — the players who competed this weekend certainly know what they need to work on, and the players who did not will focus on recovering from their injuries.
Dorato is struggling to put together a solid lineup while accounting for all of the players who are unable to compete, and all of the Elis are focusing on keeping themselves in the lineup until the ECACs. Dorato’s task will undoubtedly be made the more difficult by the loss of Rowan Reynolds ’06 for the rest of the fall season. Reynolds, who did not compete this weekend, will be out because of a left knee injury.
“I want to see everyone continue to play as well as they’ve been playing and keep getting better,” Dorato said. “I think we can beat any team in the Ivies if we’re healthy and play to our potential.”