For two of the three newcomers to the Yale women’s tennis team who participated in this past weekend’s Harvard Fall Invitational, the tournament, while the first of their Yale careers, was only that. But for Tina Jiang ’17, the competition held an additional layer of significance.
This past summer, Jiang traded the baby blue of Columbia for the darker shade of Yale blue. Her first matches as a Bulldog came surrounded by her former team, as the Lions joined Yale and five other schools in Cambridge.
“It was definitely really different, because I played for Columbia for two years,” Jiang said of competing against her former team. She added that though it was somewhat awkward to see her former team, everyone was supportive and understanding about her move.
Jiang, a former second-team All-Ivy singles and doubles player whose resume includes an undefeated freshman year, joins a team that finished last season ranked No. 69 nationally and No. 7 in the northeast. Columbia was ranked No. 45 nationally.
However, the Bulldogs have seen significant turnover since the conclusion of their spring season: Head coach Taka Bertrand left after less than one year, leaving assistant coach Matej Zlatkovic in the position of interim head coach. The graduation of former captain Hanna Yu ’15, a unanimous first-team All-Ivy selection, opened up a spot for a strong singles player.
A top-seeded player at Columbia, Jiang looks like a prime candidate to fill that role. She brings a strong baseline game and plenty of collegiate experience to a team that already has skilled underclassmen, including three new freshmen who made up a top-25 recruiting class.
Most notably, Jiang has an impeccable record in the Ivy League. In her two years in Morningside Heights, she went 7–0 in singles play and 8–0 in doubles in league matches.
Some of these victories came against her new teammates. Jiang faced Madeleine Hamilton ’16 during the last two Yale-Columbia matches, defeating Hamilton 6–3, 7–6 in April of 2015 and 6–2, 6–2 in April of 2014.
“Team-wise, she played one and two for Columbia in singles and one in doubles,” captain Ree Ree Li ’16 said. “She’s a really strong competitor. She’s someone who you can rely on to always give over 100 percent each day in practice and in everything that we do.”
But Li has another reason to celebrate Jiang’s arrival. The elite tennis community on the east coast is fairly small, and Li, from North Carolina, and Jiang, who hails from Bridgeport, New Jersey, have been friends for over 10 years.
Their parents bonded at tournaments, according to Li, because they could speak to one another in Chinese. The two players, who also attended the same U.S. Tennis Academy high-performance camps, saw each other at other tournaments and became friends as a result.
Yet it was only after Jiang decided to leave Columbia that allowed the two to become teammates for the first time.
“[Columbia] wasn’t what I was looking for in a college experience,” Jiang said. “Being in a city wasn’t as hyped up as in my head I thought it would be. I think I held all these different expectations going into Columbia, and it didn’t match my expectations. I really wanted the college life, like having a campus-style college, and being able to go do things but at the same time having more of a community.”
This past weekend, Jiang partnered up with Amy Wang ’19. Though Jiang ended up injuring her hamstring and was forced to retire early on Friday in singles play, the pair impressed in doubles.
With only one week of practice behind them, the two advanced to the quarterfinals of the Doubles A draw, dispatching Boston University’s Johanna Hyoty and Barbara Rodriguez on the way. Jiang and her previous partner, Crystal Leung, had beaten Hyoty and Rodriguez seven months ago while she and Leung were representing Columbia.
“The coaches in the beginning of the season try out many combinations,” Carol Finke ’18 said. “[Jiang and Wang] clicked well together and the righty-lefty dynamic definitely makes them a tricky team to play.”
Jiang, a right-handed player, and Wang, a left-handed one, are a formidable pair, Li explained, because Wang’s crosscourt forehand — a naturally strong groundstroke — will go to a right-handed opponent’s backhand, which tends to be a weaker stroke. Wang’s out-wide serve also gives Jiang the opportunity to show off her volleying ability at the net.
While Jiang’s hamstring injury might force her to sit out for a while, the tennis team is not stopping. It travels to Philadelphia Oct. 2 to Oct. 4 for the Cissie Leary Invitational, hosted by the University of Pennsylvania.