Both the Yale men’s and women’s tennis teams kicked off their spring seasons this past weekend after a months-long hiatus from competitive play.
After scrimmages with Brown last week shook the rust off from winter break, the Bulldogs resumed official play on their indoor courts at the Cullman-Heyman Tennis Center. The women fared competitively against a Syracuse team that finished seventh in the Atlantic Coast Conference last season, but ultimately lost by a tally of 4–3. Meanwhile, the men began their 2017 season with a 2–0 start, winning comfortably against William and Mary before edging out Buffalo in a decisive match at No. 2 singles.
“We’re definitely making good progress and we can definitely be competitive in the Ivy League this year,” Dylan King ’20 said. “We have a great freshman class and a bunch of guys that are pretty motivated to get out there and improve, so I think the future looks bright and the sky’s the limit for us. We’re all really excited for a really productive Ivy season.”
Unlike many other Yale teams, neither tennis squad participated in official team practices over winter break due to Ivy League regulations. However, all of the athletes were expected to work on their craft with a combination of team-recommended workouts and self-motivated playing and conditioning.
The women’s team recorded times and scores on designated exercises prior to leaving for break and recorded them again upon the players’ return to campus as a way to keep its athletes accountable, Elizabeth Zordani ’18 said. The men used trainer-suggested workout schedules to stay in shape and played in tournaments whenever possible.
“We all knew that we had a lot of stuff to work on,” men’s captain Tyler Lu ’17 said. “In the offseason … we tried to get in some extra fitness and make sure that our conditioning is up to par because once the season starts, you can’t really make any changes because you have matches on the weekends.”
Well-conditioned and ready to compete, the players began their 2017 campaign on their familiar home courts. The women faced the daunting challenge of replacing the midseason departures of Madison Battaglia ’20, Sherry Li ’17 and Sonal Shrivastava ’19, but received a boost from the return of Carol Finke ’18, who did not compete in the fall for health reasons.
Finke led Yale with two wins on Saturday, the most prominent of which came on a resume-building win over ITA No. 99 Gabriela Knutson at No. 1 singles. Finke dropped the first set by a score of 6–2 only to storm back and claim the victory in three sets. The junior added to her successful day by teaming up with Zordani for a 6–3 win at No. 1 doubles.
“I think I played really well in doubles,” Zordani said. “I’ve been working hard on my footwork and my positioning in doubles and I think it’s definitely paying off. … it kind of put me in a good mindset for singles.”
But a good mindset was not enough to top Syracuse. The Orange won each of the No. 2 through No. 5 singles matches to reach the four wins necessary for a team victory.
Like the women, the men started their season at home, though they faced a two-match weekend. First on the schedule was William and Mary, who the Bulldogs defeated 5–2.
Yale got out to a quick lead and took the lone doubles point when its No. 1 and No. 3 pairings took their matches by identical 6–2 scores. Alex Hagermoser ’17 and Stefan Doehler ’18 kept their momentum going at first doubles after a USTA/ITA Regional semifinal appearance in the fall. At No. 3 doubles, the freshman tandem of King and Ryan Cheng ’20 earned an important victory that allowed the second doubles team of Lu and Ziqi Wang ’18 to forgo their doubles match and rest for singles.
With this rest, both Lu and Wang earned straight-set victories atop the Yale ladder. King and Cheng also emerged victorious in the No. 3 and No. 5 slots to seal the deal for the Elis. Still, the Bulldogs had little time to celebrate their first win of the season as they faced off against Buffalo the next day.
Unlike in the previous day’s match, the Elis dropped the doubles point after losing two out of three matches to a formidable Bulls lineup. All three doubles matches were decided by two or fewer games, but the Bulls prevailed in the end.
“I thought we competed fantastically in the Buffalo match,” King said. “It started off a little rough because they had really good doubles teams, so they took the initial doubles point from us in a really close deciding match. … Our captain gave us a really good speech before we went out just telling us that we had to compete even harder now that we were down the doubles point and that we would have to fight for every single point.”
With their captain’s words in mind, the Bulldogs swept the top four singles matches to earn their second victory on the season, dropping only one set in the process.
Nevertheless, it was a nailbiter down the stretch as the contest came down to the No. 2 singles match between Wang and Buffalo’s Villhelm Fridell. Wang was pushed to three after taking the first set 6–4, but the Yale junior responded well and closed out the match with a convincing 6–2 third set.
The men are next scheduled to travel to West Point, New York to take part in the annual Army Shootout, while the women will return to action on Jan. 26 against Boston College.