On a blistering, 80-degree Sunday afternoon, the temperature was not the only thing heating up on Yale’s outdoor tennis courts. A matinee matchup between the Bulldogs and Quakers caused tempers to flare as questionable calls clouded the pristine weather.
After a relatively routine 2–1 doubles-point triumph for the Elis (16–7, 2–3 Ivy), audible disapproval of lines calls in half of the day’s six singles bouts set the stage for a chaotic finish. The day before, Yale relinquished a 3–1 lead to Princeton (12–11, 2–2), as the Tigers came storming back to claim a 4–3 victory after winning the final three singles matches. But on Easter Sunday, Yale avoided a similar fate after going up 3–0. The Bulldogs dropped a match at No. 2 singles but were able to avoid another lost lead when Ryan Cheng ’20 won a second-set tiebreaker over Penn (14–9, 1–3) to carry the team to victory in his return to competitive play.
“I was not only very happy with the way we played, but what I was most impressed [with] was how well [our players] rebounded from [Saturday’s] loss, which was a heartbreaker,” head coach Alex Dorato said.
The weekend started on a melancholy note as Yale suffered its third consecutive conference loss to the Tigers. Buoyed by an impressive doubles lineup, the team from New Jersey captured the doubles point in dominating fashion.
Princeton rolled out the No. 31 doubles team in the country at its top slot to face off against the Elis’ Fedor Andrienko ’18 and Alex Hagermoser ’17, who had previously gone 2–1 in Ivy League play. Although the veteran Bulldog pair put together a decent showing, the duo dropped its serve once against an unforgiving team and could never mount a comeback. The 6–3 win for the Tigers’ tandem strengthened its claim as the top pair in the Ancient Eight.
At second doubles, captain Tyler Lu ’17 and Photos Photiades ’17 were simply outplayed in an uncharacteristically one-sided bagel set. With these wins, Princeton, thought to be of top-three caliber in the conference, looked to be on its way to winning its first Ancient Eight match of the season.
However, the Elis did not go away quietly. When singles play began, Yale ambushed the Tigers with a barrage of spectacular play from its top three singles players. Lu, Dylan King ’20 and Ziqi Wang ’18 cruised to straight set victories to put Yale in the driver’s seat. Furthermore, a first set win for Stefan Doehler ’18 at No. 4 singles gave the Bulldogs reason to be hopeful.
But just as swift as its path to a 3–1 lead was Yale’s downfall to defeat on Saturday. Doehler was eventually bested in three sets, and his teammates at the bottom two spots in the singles ladder dropped similarly close affairs. For the third match in a row, the Bulldogs lost to a team that they considered beatable.
With their momentum carrying them the wrong way, the Elis stumbled into their Senior Day matchup against Penn. The Bulldogs came out motivated to put the previous day’s collapse in the rearview mirror. In doubles play, the return of Cheng, who had been out for about a month with an injury to his dominant left wrist, gave the entire team a boost of energy. The freshman from California teamed up with fellow West Coast-native King to win convincingly at No. 2 doubles.
The pair, which had seen success earlier in the season, used a varied arsenal of formations in a 6–3 win. The two tried out two-back formations when returning first serves as well as an Australian doubles formation behind King’s big serve. These different looks overwhelmed the opposing Quakers in a rare all-lefty doubles match and spurred the Elis to a doubles-point victory.
At the top position, Andrienko and Hagermoser returned to their winning ways with a clinical 6–3 dismantling of Penn’s top doubles team. Although Lu and Photiades dropped their second match of the weekend at No. 3 doubles, Yale topped its opponent 2–1 and headed into singles play with a lead.
“We just took care of our games, and that put a lot of pressure on them,” Hagermoser said. “We had [a lot] of break points, and so it was just a matter of time before we got one … We just played well, executed the fundamentals, and it went well for us.”
Again, strong play at the top of the singles ladder put the Elis one win away from victory as King dropped just one game in a quick two sets at No. 3 singles. Lu added to the freshman’s impressive display by taking the first set from Kyle Mautner, who beat him in their most recent matchup over a year ago. Mautner could not continue on to a second set with an injury to his dominant pinky that hindered him from effectively holding his racquet, and Lu was awarded another win at No. 1 singles.
Having reached three points for the second match in a row, the Elis were determined to walk off their home courts for the last time this season with a win. But controversy on the lower three singles courts delayed their victory. Whereas the top three singles matches had three referees, only one referee covered the bottom three matches.
As a result, there were several contested calls that created an intense atmosphere for the end of the match. The Elis seemed to be in control as Cheng accumulated a set and a break lead in his No. 6 singles match, but the rookie, rusty from a long hiatus from competitive play, struggled to close out his match and was pushed to a tiebreaker.
To add even more drama, Wang dropped his match at No. 2 singles by a score of 6–1, 6–4 after several encounters with his referee, and the other two singles matches were far from decided. Unburdened by the pressure on his match, Cheng was able to win a 7–4 tiebreaker and give the Elis a long-awaited victory.
“I think it was a lot more of a positive cerebral day [Sunday] than it was [Saturday],” assistant coach Christian Appleman said. “Even though the conditions were tough, I thought we battled through it, and we were mentally solid. At this point in the season that’s what you want to see.”
The Elis now boast a 2–3 conference record, good for a tie for fifth place in the Ivy League, with two matches remaining on their schedule.