The number three is haunting the Yale women’s tennis team.
The Bulldogs have won three points in each of their three Ivy League contests — but for all these successes, they have three narrow losses to show in their conference record.
After dropping their Ivy opener 4–3 at Brown, the Elis (7–12, 0–3 Ivy) replicated that result twice more this weekend, first in a home loss to No. 43 Dartmouth (13–4, 1–2) on Friday and again at Harvard (15–6, 3–0) two days later. Though much has changed for the program since last year’s 2–5 last-place finish in the conference, Yale has struggled to extend the momentum it had acquired in the weeks leading up to the Ancient Eight season.
“Every match is going to be really close because of the competitiveness of the league,” Elizabeth Zordani ’18 said after the Dartmouth loss. “We just have to expect every match to be a battle and embrace the competition. This is what we’ve been working towards for the entire year, so we just have to go out and enjoy competing.”
The number two has been friendlier to the Bulldogs, whose emphasis on doubles in practice has translated into doubles-point victories in four of its last five matches.
Zordani exemplified the spirit of competition she identified in the No. 1 doubles slot on Friday, triumphing alongside captain Tina Jiang ’17 in a 7–6 tiebreaker victory to open the match. This win propelled an otherwise easy path to seizing the doubles point. Both the No. 3 and No. 4 doubles squads conceded just two games apiece to their Big Green competitors to give the afternoon at Cullman-Heyman Tennis Center a promising start.
“I think what’s working [in doubles] is how much more aggressive we are and that we’re willing to be aggressive on key points or in situations where we might have been tentative before,” Zordani said. “We’ve been working a lot on our movement and certain situations in doubles, so I think all of the repetition is paying off.”
According to Carol Finke ’18, the team understood the importance of the doubles point given Dartmouth’s depth at singles, and the Big Green proved her right.
Finke pushed Taylor Ng to a tiebreaker in the second set at the No. 1 singles spot but ultimately fell 6–3, 7–6. The third seed proved unlucky for Valerie Shklover ’18, who also forced a tiebreaker in her match, but she too could not muster enough points to force a third set.
While Dartmouth swept the top three singles positions, the Bulldogs surged back with wins from Jiang and Zordani at the number No. 4 and No. 5 positions. With the outcome of the match at stake, however, the Elis fell in the bottom two singles slots, handing the Big Green its first conference win.
Harvard dealt Dartmouth one of its losses earlier in the season and maintained its league supremacy with an unbeaten weekend punctuated by its 4–3 win over the Bulldogs on Sunday.
As always with the Crimson, the clash meant more than other contests, especially given the diverging stories of these two programs. While Harvard and Yale finished at the bottom of the Ivy League last season, the Crimson’s overall record in sets was near even, with only one more set lost than won. Four of Harvard’s five losses were 4–3 splits, a feeling that is now quite familiar for the Blue.
But this year, the Cambridge foes — only two of whom are upperclassmen — have strung together three straight one-point victories, an ascent mirroring the plunge of the Elis.
After dropping the doubles point, Yale continued to compete in tight matches up and down the draw on Sunday. No. 2 Amy Yang ’19 pulled out a gutsy 7–6, 5–7, 10–4 marathon victory, and Zordani continued her strong weekend with a 3–6, 6–4, 6–1 triumph at the No. 5 seed.
Jiang, meanwhile, seized a win at the No. 4 slot, giving her a perfect singles weekend as well.
With Crimson victories at the No. 1 and No. 3 positions, the match came down to the No. 6 seed duel between Opala Dhingra ’20, Yale’s only freshman, and Harvard rookie Natasha Gonzalez. Dhingra made her Ivy League debut on Friday, pairing a doubles win with a singles loss, but fell to Gonzalez 6–4, 6–2 in the decisive matchup.
“I thought the team competed really well,” Dhingra said. “Everyone is playing really well — the match was just super close and could have gone either way.”
The juxtaposition with Harvard in the standings is a stark reminder of just how consequential the results of those close competitions can be. For now, however, after another just-good-enough-to-lose set of performances, Yale will be left cursing the number three until its next contest.
The Bulldogs will play the final two road games of their conference season with back-to-back tilts at Princeton and Penn this weekend.