Cheers from the Harvard faithful flooded Yale’s outdoor courts on Sunday afternoon as a Crimson win at No. 2 singles clinched Harvard’s 19th-consecutive victory over the Bulldogs. What started as a hopeful weekend for the Yale men’s tennis team ended in an all too familiar feeling of defeat.
Two days prior, the Elis (15–6, 1–2 Ivy) opened their weekend with a loss on the fast-paced indoor courts of Dartmouth (9–11, 2–1). After amassing a 14–4 nonconference record, Yale turned to conference play with confidence, only to be bested by the Big Green in a nervy 4–1 affair. Nevertheless, Yale came into play on Sunday undeterred by its loss and motivated to defeat its long-time rival Harvard (15–8, 3–0). This determination manifested itself into a doubles-point win for Yale, but a shaky singles performance left the Bulldogs short in their quest to end a long losing streak to the Crimson.
“It was disappointing,” captain Tyler Lu ’17 said. “I think the entire team felt like we were definitely capable of going 2–0 through this weekend, so it definitely hurts a lot that we ended up 0–2. I think that’s just a testament to the parity in the Ivy League.”
The Elis got out to a slow start in their first conference road match of the season in Hanover. Although Yale dominated at No. 1 doubles behind the high level of play from Fedor Andrienko ’18 and Alex Hagermoser ’17, the 6–2 victory at the top doubles slot was not enough to overcome losses at the two remaining positions.
At No. 2 doubles, the new pairing of Stefan Doehler ’18 and Dylan King ’20 struggled to find their footing in a 6–3 defeat to the home pair of David Horneffer and George Wall. Similarly, the veteran tandem of Lu and Photos Photiades ’17 dropped a 6–2 set to give Dartmouth the doubles point.
“We were close and were competing really well,” head coach Alex Dorato said. “We just got a little nervous. They were comfortable on their home court, and we weren’t. That was really the difference.”
The nerves especially played a prominent role in the singles matches of two freshmen, according to Dorato, as King and Andrew Heller ’20 both suffered straight-set defeats. King dropped two 6–4 sets at No. 3 while Heller lost his sets by identical 7–5 scores in the No. 5 match. A lack of inexperience in Ivy play seemed to contribute to their nerves and close losses, Dorato said.
Before the freshmen lost their affairs, Doehler, who has quietly been having a great season in the No. 4 singles spot, also lost in straight sets against a Dartmouth opponent who came out to play from the start. Doehler fell behind early and never got things going in his singles loss.
In the end, the only Yale victory against Dartmouth came at the No. 1 singles spot, where the always-reliable Lu — currently the No. 60 individual player, according to the Intercollegiate Tennis Associate’s most recent rankings — took care of business in two sets.
Following the Friday loss, the Bulldogs returned to their home courts looking to salvage a weekend split. Playing outdoors at home for the first time all season, Yale got off to another slow start with a 6–1 drubbing at No. 2 doubles, as the pair of King and Doehler was overmatched for the second time this weekend.
But inspired play at the bookend doubles positions earned the Elis a hard-fought doubles-point victory. At No. 3 doubles, Lu served for the match with his pair up a break, only for Harvard to push the set to 5–5 with a crucial break of its own. Eventually, the match went to a tiebreaker, and Lu and Photiades closed out the affair with a convincing 7–2 tiebreaker score.
With that, the point came down to the rubber match at No. 1 doubles. After trading service games with Yale for the majority of the first set, Harvard earned a well-timed break to serve for the match at 5–4. The Crimson made it as far as 40–0 in its game to serve out the match, but Andrienko and Hagermoser fended off four straight match points in a gutsy performance. Immediately afterwards, the Yale duo broke Harvard and closed out the match on Hagermoser’s serve for a rousing 7–5 victory.
Upon winning the doubles point, Yale’s crowd erupted and dulled the confident cries of the Harvard side that had dominated the atmosphere even on the road.
“I thought after we won the doubles, I thought we had a really good chance [to win],” Dorato said. “I thought if we could win two out of [the top three singles matches], and we could get one of [the bottom three singles matches], we had a shot.”
But Yale’s look at victory was brief. The Bulldogs fell in a quick 0–3 hole in singles as their bottom three players were dismantled in one-sided, straight-set matches. Lu defeated Sebastian Beltrame of Harvard 6–2, 6–4 to draw the Elis within one, but Ziqi Wang ’18 was unable to overcome early breaks in both his sets as he lost at No. 2 singles. Harvard clinched the overall match with Wang’s loss, dropping Yale to 1–2 in conference play this spring.
“[Harvard’s] style of play is to be aggressive and to go forward,” assistant coach Christian Appleman said. “I think when they found that they could do that, they capitalized on it pretty quickly. We just didn’t have an answer for it.”
With this year’s losses, Yale falls to 0–9 against Dartmouth and Harvard since the 2013–14 season.