The Yale women’s tennis team (9-8, 5-0 Ivy) has not won the Ivy League in 19 years. But at 5-0 in the conference after wins on the road this weekend over Columbia (8-8, 1-2), 6-1, on Friday and Cornell (9-5, 2-3), 6-1, on Saturday, a championship is no more than one victory away.
This coming weekend, the team will take on its final two foes, Harvard and Dartmouth, both of whom the Elis defeated last year.
“We are staying focused and staying in the present,” head coach Danielle Lund said. “We have a lot of work left to do.”
A split this weekend would guarantee Yale at least a share of the Ivy League crown. The only other team within reach, Penn (9-7, 4-1), has already lost to Yale.
Challenging Columbia on Friday in New York City, the Elis came out strong at every position, sweeping all three doubles matches and five of the singles spots.
“We came out as a team expecting to win,” Lauren Ritz ’11 said.
At No. 3 doubles, Lindsey Dashiell ’08 and Stevi Petrelli ’11 let their opponents rise to a quick 4-1 lead, but the Bulldogs managed to shift the momentum, surrendering just one additional game on their way to an 8-5 victory.
Janet Kim ’09 and Jessica Rhee ’10, who went undefeated as a freshman last year, battled to a victory at No. 1 doubles, 8-4. Lindsay Clark ’11 and Ritz also won, at No. 2 doubles, 8-5.
In singles matchups, Clark, Petrelli and Ritz earned quick victories at Nos. 3, 5 and 6, clinching the point for the Bulldogs while other matches were still in play.
Clark trounced Sydney Murray, 6-0, in the first set before the Lion retired because of injury. At No. 5, Petrelli rolled to a 6-0, 6-4 win. At No. 6, Ritz squashed her opponent’s bid for a comeback, holding strong for a 6-0, 6-4 victory.
“I think five and six singles won their first sets within 10 minutes,” Silia DeFillipis ’11 said.
Next off the court was Sarah Lederhandler ’10, who accepted a 6-2, 6-1 defeat at the hands of Columbia’s Carling Donovan at the No. 4 position.
Rhee avenged a pair of losses at No. 2 from the previous week to overcome her opponent after dropping into a 4-1 deficit in the first set. Rhee took the next six games en route to her win, 6-4, 6-1.
At No. 1, however, Kim’s opponent, Nina Suda, responded well to her fast-paced shots, but Kim fought for a narrow win, 6-3, 5-7, 14-12.
“Her opponent was playing out of her mind, but Janet was still able to stay mentally tough and battle through a tough match,” Rhee said.
After winning the first set 6-3, Kim’s opponent took the critical games at 5-5 in the second set to pull off a 7-5 win. Since the overall match had been decided at that point, Kim and Columbia’s Suda played a 10-point tiebreaker, where the players would trade points, drawing the decision out to 14-12 in Kim’s favor.
Standing on the sidelines, the team cheered its No. 1 player, watching in anticipation as Kim fought point by point. The tiebreaker could have gone either way; the players were tied on at least seven occasions.
“This is what’s fun,” Dashiell whispered as the matchup came down to the wire.
After the match, head coach Lund said that although the team could have performed better in certain positions, she was proud that the Elis could keep their focus coming off of big wins last week over Penn and Princeton.
“We can always improve,” she said. “We have to keep working to get the points and to take care of business.”
The following day, the Elis traveled to Ithaca to take on Cornell. They pounced on the Big Red, winning 6-1.
Lund said the conditions were less than favorable for the day’s matches — having to play outside in 22-mile-per-hour winds, she said, didn’t mke for “the prettiest tennis.”
But despite the weather, the Bulldogs again swept the doubles matches.
At No. 2 doubles, after wins at Nos. 1 and 3 had already clinched the doubles point, Clark and Ritz found themselves down 7-1.
“After a rough start, they just put on their hard hats and went to work,” Rhee said. “They were never fazed or discouraged about being down, and it was great seeing them fight. They proved to their opponents that the match is never over until the last point has been won.”
In singles action, Kim won at No. 1, 6-4, 6-4. Rhee rolled to a 6-0, 6-4 victory at No. 2. Clark won, 6-1, 6-3, at No. 3.
With the match decided at this point in the Bulldogs’ favor, the remaining matchups at Nos. 4, 5 and 6, which had split sets, would be decided in narrow 10-point tiebreakers.
Again at No. 4, Lederhandler found difficulty, fighting back from a first-set shutout loss to claim victory in the second set. Lederhandler ultimately lost, 6-0, 5-7, 10-2.
Petrelli won at No. 5 after dropping a first-set tiebreaker, ending 6-7(3), 6-1, 10-7.
Ritz also won at No. 6 in an evenly matched game that hinged on a few key points in the tiebreaker. She maintained focus to secure the win, 4-6, 6-4, 11-9.
Lund said that although the Bulldogs’ match against the Big Red was a close one, the challenge motivated each player to step up her game.
“I would rather play a match like that than to have an easy win,” she said.
Rhee commended the team on its ability to win under pressure.
“Everyone just showed how much their preparation was paying off. I saw everyone fighting for every point,” Rhee said. “That was great to see because they’re not only fighting for themselves but for the whole team and for Yale.”
The Bulldogs play Harvard at home Friday and will finish up their Ivy season against Dartmouth in Hanover on Saturday.