Courtesy of Yale Athletics
Less than one calendar year removed from a season-ending injury, captain Tyler Lu ’17 looks to take the Yale men’s tennis team to new heights as it pursues an Ivy League Championship this season.
Throughout their disappointing 2015–16 campaign, the Bulldogs felt the gaping hole left by the absence of Lu, their undisputed top player. On the heels of a meteoric rise to the top of Yale tennis, which included two Connecticut state championship singles titles and a top 100 Intercollegiate Tennis Association ranking, the budding star suffered a debilitating wrist injury that sidelined him for much of last year. Nevertheless, Lu has returned with a vengeance this season and will try to put last season’s woes in the rearview mirror.
“I think a reason why we’re competing so well is because of how well Tyler competes,” head coach Alex Dorato said. “No matter [whom] we play, he’s always giving it his all. If you watch him play, he doesn’t get rattled, nothing throws him off and when younger players see that, they see that that’s how you have to be to be a great competitor.”
Although Lu arrived at Yale almost four years ago as a highly touted freshman, Dorato and his staff marked him as a player to watch long before the now-senior entered the truly elite ranks. The Yale men’s tennis program first saw Lu play as a high school junior at the U.S. Junior Nationals, when he was ranked outside the top 50 in his age group.
Immediately, the coaches were taken by the Irvine, California, native’s remarkable foot and racquet head speed, Dorato recalled. Still, even talent as undeniable as Lu’s does not always translate from the high school ranks to college. What really allowed Lu to succeed was a work ethic and humility that complemented his potential.
“He’s really lived up to what we thought he could do,” Dorato said. “He’s a different player than he was freshman year. … He’s definitely stronger and plays a bigger game than he did [back then], but he’s not afraid to get out of his comfort zone and learn something new and make himself better.”
Lu went a combined 29–9 across singles and doubles in his freshman spring season and was named ITA Northeast Region Rookie of the Year. He continued this great play in his sophomore campaign en route to his second straight All-Ivy selection. Although he played in the fall of his junior year, Lu did not compete in the spring due to his wrist injury.
Although the team never won more than two conference bouts in his first three seasons, Lu continued to improve and was named team captain heading into his senior season. In this new role, he led the Elis to strong showings in several fall tournaments and a 5–3 record in the early stages of the spring season.
Lu was not quite back to his peak form in the fall, but he seems to be hitting his stride now with zero singles losses so far in the spring. During this unbeaten streak, the Yale captain has collected noteworthy victories over Nos. 72 and 120 in the ITA rankings.
However, Lu’s impact is not limited to his results on the court. His leadership has also ignited inspired play from the rest of his teammates.
“[Lu] plays number one in our lineup,” Ziqi Wang ’18 said. “As such, he is most always pretty much leading by example, and that is something that he emphasizes and hopes we will follow along with. He’s always very intense, very focused at every practice, and he sets the example, sets the bar for what we need to be doing.”
Currently sidelined with a wrist injury of his own but hoping to return to the courts this weekend, Wang spends a lot of time practicing with Lu as the No. 2 singles player and Lu’s doubles partner for much of the early season. The two were 2–1 as a doubles pair before Wang’s injury.
Furthermore, the captain has also helped the younger crop of players who have been experiencing success similar to that of Lu’s first two seasons.
“His level is a couple notches above us freshman and [a lot of the team],” Ryan Cheng ’20 said. “So, watching him play, you see where you need to be, where you want to be. You [want to] learn from the best, and he’s a great guy to learn from.”
Lu will lead the Elis this weekend with a pair of matchups against Old Dominion and Elon.