Opening conference play by facing ranked opponents on back-to-back days for the first time this season, the Yale women’s tennis team emerged with an upset victory as well as its first loss of the 2016 Ivy League campaign.
Continuing trends of recent years, the Bulldogs (7–9, 1–1 Ivy) defeated No. 69 Penn (8–7, 1–2 Ivy), 4–3, on Friday for a ninth consecutive season before falling 5–2 to No. 59 Princeton (10–8, 2–1 Ivy) the following day for the third time in as many seasons. Despite the loss to the Tigers rounding out the weekend, the Elis stressed their confidence in competing for Yale’s first Ivy League title since 2013.
“We showed our strength, unity and fight against Penn and also the areas that we need to improve on in our match against Princeton,” captain Ree Ree Li ’16 said. “This weekend is only going to make us stronger and better for the upcoming matches. We still have a fighting chance to win the Ivies, and I know that we can do it.”
The Bulldogs began with a slow start against Penn in their conference opener, dropping the doubles point for the first time since their match against No. 40 Syracuse nearly two months ago. However, the Elis rebounded by dominating the Quakers in the singles matches, racking up wins in each of the top four matches en route to the 4–3 match victory.
Li and three other upperclassmen — Madeleine Hamilton ’16, Tina Jiang ’17 and Sherry Li ’17 — combined to lose just one singles set, sealing the deal for the Bulldogs at the top of the lineup. Hamilton won the No. 1 match by a score of 6–4, 6–4, and Jiang overcame a 4–1 first-set deficit to take the No. 2 match 6–4, 6–1. Ree Ree Li and Sherry Li both outlasted their Penn opponents by winning tiebreakers in their decisive sets, winning the No. 3 and No. 4 matches 6–2, 7–6(6) and 6–3, 2–6, 7–6(5), respectively. No. 5 Courtney Amos ’16 and No. 6 Valerie Shklover ’18 fell in two and three sets, respectively, marking the lone two singles losses for Yale in the match.
With Friday’s successes, the four top Bulldogs brought their combined career singles record against the Quakers to a lopsided 10–2.
“Our upperclassmen proved that experience paid off in playing under tremendous pressure to rebound after losing the doubles point,” Carol Finke ’18 said. “All four battled throughout their matches and competed against a very strong and competent Penn squad.”
Saturday’s match against Princeton followed nearly the opposite storyline. With Princeton’s nationally ranked doubles duo of senior Amanda Muliawan and sophomore Katrine Steffensen playing with different partners, the Elis seized the doubles point by winning two of the three sets. Hamilton’s and Jiang’s narrow 7–6(4) victory in the third and final set sent Yale to the singles matches with palpable energy in the Cullman-Heyman Tennis Center on its side.
However, Princeton quickly regained momentum against the Elis, winning the opening set in five of the six singles matches. Despite a 7–5, 2–6, 6–1 victory by Finke in the No. 6 singles match, the Tigers took care of business elsewhere in the lineup. Princeton dropped just one set against Yale’s top five singles players, a 2–6 second-set loss by freshman Nicole Kalhorn at the hands of Amos, to win the match 5–2.
“I think that we got a little too relaxed after the doubles point and didn’t carry that energy over into our singles matches,” Elizabeth Zordani ’18 said. “I’m hoping that we’ll be doing a lot of point play in practice [this week] so we can work on our strategies, improve our strengths and work on our weaknesses to be 100 percent next weekend.”
With the weekend split, Yale sits in a three-way tie with Dartmouth and Brown for third place in the Ivy League standings. The Bulldogs will look to retain their position in the Ancient Eight as they travel to Columbia and Cornell next weekend.