This weekend, the men’s tennis team learned that even great talent and willpower sometimes take a backseat to inopportune illness.

Despite an impressive first round match at the University of Georgia Southern Intercollegiate tournament, Brandon Wai ’07, last year’s Ivy League Player of the Year, was forced to withdraw from the tournament with a bad sore throat. He defeated Jacob McLeod of Morehead State, 6-1, 6-3 on Friday afternoon in his only action of the event. Wai was the first player from above the Mason-Dixie line to compete in the tournament’s 39-year history.

The sore throat, which arose during Friday’s match, had significantly worsened by Saturday morning, forcing Wai to sit out the remainder of the tournament. Team members said there is no cause for worry and the No. 74 player in the nation is feeling better already. Wai plans to travel to Charlottesville next weekend to compete in a three-day tournament hosted by the University of Virginia.

Teammates said they were impressed by the level of Wai’s play thus far this season.

“That first match was very encouraging,” Rory Green ’08 said. “He’s playing at an even higher level than last year. It’s just a pity he got sick at the wrong time.”

The Elis hope to use Wai’s skills as a springboard to launch themselves into another solid season. Coming off last year’s third place Ivy League finish, the Bulldogs are looking to bring home the title this time around. With three talented freshmen joining four of last year’s top six veterans, the squad is especially deep this year. Returning players credited the team’s work ethic as the source of their optimism.

“Everyone trained very hard this offseason and it really shows,” Tom Santoro ’09 said. “We’re all in even better shape than last year and are willing to put in the time and effort to continue to improve.”

But in a league noted for remarkable depth and parity throughout, the Bulldogs by no means have an easy road ahead. Penn and Brown, who shared the Ancient Eight crown last year, will undoubtedly test the Elis once again this year, and Harvard is always lurking nearby. Fortunately for the Bulldogs, they will face their top competitors at home this season, unlike last spring, when the majority of their big matches were on the road.

“It makes a huge difference when you’re at home,” Green said. “You know every inch of your home court and it really helps that our toughest matches will be played here.”

Before they get a shot at their Ivy League rivals in the spring, the Elis have to take care of business this fall. The fall season consists of mostly individual play, with the only team tournament being the ECAC Championships, held at the USTA National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, Queens. On most weekends this fall, the Bulldogs will be traveling the coast with only a fraction of the team.

Despite this fall’s individual play and the relatively young season, the team has already found great chemistry and camaraderie. Team members said the team’s cohesion will make the season’s ups and downs that much easier to bear.

“It’s great to be a part of something like this,” Matt Schimmel ’10 said. “I really think this is one of the closest teams in the country.”