Despite a rough fall season filled with injuries that affected some of its top players, the men’s tennis team received invitations for eight players to compete in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Championships last weekend.
Six of the invited players traveled to Blacksburg, Va., and fared well in the tournament, which pits the top players from the northeast United States against each other. No. 9 seed Brandon Wai ’07 had an especially impressive singles run, winning four matches. But he eventually fell to the No. 4 seed, Colgate’s Reed Hagmann, in the quarterfinals in three sets, 2-6, 7-5, 6-7.
“It was a little disappointing,” Wai said. “I had a chance to win but a couple points just decided it — But I’m actually pretty happy with how I did — quarterfinals aren’t bad.”
Wai, who has won the two individual invitational tournaments in which he has competed this fall, continues to amaze his teammates.
“With Brandon, I don’t know what to say,” Johnny Lu ’05 said. “He keeps improving week by week — Basically he breezed through his first few matches — He was hitting great shots with pinpoint accuracy, and everything seemed to be working for Brandon.”
Though Wai may be the Eli who advanced the farthest in the tournament, head coach Alex Dorato said everyone put forth an impressive showing, and he was pleased with the overall level of play this weekend.
Dorato said that this weekend seemed to answer a question posed to him earlier in the season about how he could stay so optimistic when his team’s record was less than stellar.
“This was a weekend that showed so much promise,” Dorato said. “Brandon [Wai] was doing well; Johnny Lu is playing the best he’s played since freshman year; Matt Feldman [’06] is playing the best tennis he’s ever played and loving it and having fun; Milosz [Gudzowski ’06] played the No. 1 seed and played a really close match with him. Everybody is playing really well.”
In singles, Feldman, who was originally invited to the tournament to play doubles with Lu, won his two qualifying matches to play in the tournament. He fell in a close match to St. Joseph’s University’s No. 2 singles player 3-6, 6-7. Lu also lost in the first round 6-2, 4-6, 1-6.
Gudzowski took on the No. 1 player from George Washington University in his first round and was able to squeeze out a tight 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 win. In his second match, however, Gudzowski faced the No. 1 player in the tournament, Harvard’s Jonathan Chu. The nation’s No. 20 player took Gudzowski in two sets 7-6, 6-2, but Gudzowski fought a strong battle.
“Chu has big serves and big volleys, and he won the big points,” Gudzowski said. “I felt I could have won the first set, but I took him to a tie break.”
Only one of the three invited Bulldogs doubles teams competed this weekend, Lu and Feldman. The pair has seen successes all season, and their Blacksburg performance was a further indication of the team’s potency.
“Johnny [Lu] and Matt [Feldman] played a great first round,” Dorato said. “They beat a really good team from St. Bonaventure. They had been playing well all fall, but this weekend solidified that what they had done before wasn’t a fluke. They really are this good.”
Feldman and Lu, who are planning on playing in non-Yale-related tournaments together in the off-season, were down 5-6 in their first match, but used their accurate returns and powerful volleys to help them come back.
“We were down a break, but basically we didn’t feel like we were going to lose the match,” Lu said. “We were pretty confident that we could come back and ended up taking four out of the five next games to win 9-7.”
In their next match, Lu and Feldman faced the tournament’s No. 1 team from Cornell and fell 2-8.
“We had some opportunities to make it close, but we didn’t really come through on them,” Feldman said. “We missed a couple volleys here and there.”
Two Elis who were invited to the tourney were not able to make the trip. Captain Ryan Murphy ’05, who was invited to play singles and doubles with Wai, was not able to attend, as he is being treated for a calcium deposit in his wrist. Chris Lawler ’07, who was invited to play doubles with Gudzowski, could not attend either.
The ITA Championships marks the end of the Bulldogs’ fall season. Until they begin play again in January, Dorato said he wants to work on doubles and on conditioning. And with the addition of some key players who were not able to compete for the past few months, Dorato said he believes that spring can be strong for the Elis.
Rory Greene ’08 was out for the fall season because he could not get clearing from the NCAA but will be eligible for play in the spring. Murphy, who has been plagued by injuries all fall — first a back strain and now the calcium deposit — should be ready to compete in January. Rowan Reynolds ’06 who has been out all season with a knee injury, is hoping to be set to play when the season starts up again.
“The fall season wasn’t bad in terms of anyone’s performance, but mixed in terms of injuries,” Dorato said. “The guys who were healthy — I was very pleased with them and thought they were up a notch from last year. I want to get my team healthy. If we’re healthy, we have a shot at every team in the Ivy League, but we have to be 100-percent to do it.”