Over the course of one month, the Yale men’s tennis team strung together 10 consecutive victories in one of its most impressive runs in recent memory. Although this stellar streak came to an end at the hands of No. 11 University of California, Berkeley last Wednesday, the Bulldogs have reason to be hopeful heading into the bulk of their conference schedule.
The Elis (14–4, 1–0 Ivy) began their regular season with a blistering 4–1 start before faltering against conference foes Cornell and Harvard at the 2017 Eastern College Athletic Conference championships. The Big Red and Crimson defeated Yale by a combined 9–1 score, though the lopsided tally was largely unrepresentative of the competitive nature of the matches. Disappointed by their performances, the Bulldogs responded with inspired play on their march to 10 straight wins and a No. 48 national ranking from the Intercollegiate Tennis Association. Yale has been led by particularly strong play from its top-four singles players and will look to shore up its doubles play with the Ivy season just over one week away.
“There’s probably a lot of reasons why they’re playing well,” head coach Alex Dorato said. “But I think they just have a great competitive attitude, and they’re incredibly gritty. I think they’ve been able to pull out wins even when they’re not playing particularly well, and I think that’s what really made the difference.”
This competitive attitude came out in full force over the team’s California trip. In their final three West Coast matches, the Bulldogs played 10 tiebreakers and won all 10, according to Dorato. Yale’s ability to win timely points in these pressure-filled situations is a true testament to the players’ grittiness this season.
In most likely its most difficult matchup of the season, Dorato’s team held its own against the formidable No. 9 Cal Bears. Three Yale singles players were able to earn victories against ranked opponents from a Berkeley team that boasted six ranked entries across singles and doubles. Although the Elis lost the match by one point, they displayed a confidence in themselves that was hard to come by in previous seasons.
“I think that the big difference this year is that people just believe in themselves,” captain Tyler Lu ’17 said. “In the past, when we hadn’t been playing as well, we’d go into matches and people would just think that we weren’t on the same level as someone. … But I think this year, because people have been playing well the entire year, people actually think that we can hang with a team such as Berkeley.”
With Cal in the back mirror, Yale has one more nonconference contest against St. John’s before it enters the thick of Ancient Eight play with six consecutive Ivy tilts to close out the 2017 season. Even though the Bulldogs easily handled the Red Storm at the ECAC championships, they will have to maintain focus to retain their momentum heading into conference play.
The Elis are already off to a good start against Ivy competition with a triumph over Brown on March 5, but the toughest matchups against title favorites Cornell and defending champion Columbia still loom. Although the road to a championship will be tough in the always competitive Ivy League, the Elis are not short on confidence heading into the conference season.
“For the first time in my three years here at Yale, I feel confident saying we have a good shot at taking the Ivy title,” Stefan Doehler ’18 said. “Our singles lineup is so incredibly solid in comparison to previous years where there were gaps in the lineup either due to injury or strength of the opposing team. This year there isn’t a single player in the starting lineup that is outmatched by our Ivy League opponents. Our team isn’t necessarily more talented than previous years, but every player has been working hard to actualize their talent.”
Nevertheless, the Bulldogs have a lot to work on if they hope to capture an Ancient Eight title. Although its singles play has been tremendous, Yale has struggled in doubles play against conference opponents. The Elis were only able to take the lone doubles point against Brown as they lost two doubles matches to both Cornell and Harvard. As doubles are played first in most Ivy matchups, it becomes all the more important to head into singles play with a lead.
Moreover, injuries to two Bulldogs will put Yale’s depth to the test. Ryan Cheng ’20, who was a staple in Yale’s singles and doubles lineups throughout the winter, suffered an injury to his nondominant right hand and remains doubtful to return for the rest of the season. Likewise, Fedor Andrienko ’18 continues to nurse a shoulder tear that has kept his playing status questionable.
Still, the Elis seem to be peaking at the right time. With positive results under their belts, the Yale players head into conference play with the belief that they can compete with the best the Ivy League has to offer.
“I feel like we played some of our best tennis over the spring break trip,” Dylan King ’20 said. “All four of the matches were very competitive, so we’re definitely getting more used to putting ourselves in very close situations and learning how to rise above and play the close points really well and smartly. Just knowing that we’ve been in these high-stakes situations before helps us be more confident when we start to have competitive, high-quality Ivy matches.”
Yale last won a share of the Ivy League men’s tennis title during the 1992–93 season.