Facing the best that the Ivy League has to offer, the Yale men’s tennis team showed promise against a pair of perennial top three finishers in Cornell and Columbia. However, the Bulldogs’ unfamiliarity with the big stage ultimately contributed to a winless weekend to close out the 2017 season.
The Elis (16–9, 2–5 Ivy) first traveled to Ithaca for a matchup with No. 26 Cornell (21–3, 6–1) in hopes of ending the Big Red’s four-game conference win streak. Yale took a 2–1 lead in the match and pushed the Saturday meeting to a decisive tiebreaker, but Cornell’s steadiness prevailed in a 4–3 nail-biter. The Elis received no reprieve as they played No. 23 Columbia (17–4, 6–1) in Manhattan the next day. The Lions were as good as advertised, and their balanced attack fueled a 5–2 win that cemented Yale’s 2–5 conference record in 2017.
“I think, at least ranking wise, we played the two best teams in the Ivies [this weekend],” captain Tyler Lu ’17 said. “But the fact that we played them so closely is a testament to how good our team was this year.”
Yale got out to an encouraging start against the Big Red. After a winless weekend against Princeton and Penn, the Bulldogs’ No. 3 doubles pair of Lu and Photos Photiades ’17 got back on track with a 6–1 victory. The experienced seniors were too much a Cornell freshman-sophomore duo and gave the Elis a lead in doubles play.
Yale’s advantage was short lived, however, as Cornell reclaimed control at the top of the doubles ladder. The Big Red’s Colin Sinclair and Chris Vrabel bested Fedor Andrienko ’18 and Alex Hagermoser ’17 via a series of close games to draw even with the Bulldogs. In three deuce points at No. 1 doubles, Sinclair and Vrabel walked away with three game victories. Ultimately, these crucial points proved to be the difference as the Cornell tandem earned a 6–3 triumph.
The deciding match at No. 2 doubles was comparably close, but the Big Red again stepped up when the points mattered the most. In a matchup showcasing three of the Ivy league’s top freshman doubles players, Cornell used a one break cushion to clinch the doubles point with another 6–3 win.
Down 1–0 and in need of some inspired play, Yale rebounded to kick off the singles portion of the matchup. Per usual, Intercollegiate Tennis Association-ranked No. 63 Lu and Dylan King ’20 turned in reliable performances to take back an Eli lead. King finished first with a strong 6–3, 7–6 showing against Vrabel, who the Yale freshman had previously defeated in the fall. Lu, meanwhile, continued his demolition of the Ivy League’s top players with a 6–4, 6–3 win over No. 101 Lev Kazakov, who was moved to No. 1 in place of Sinclair.
Despite success at the top of the ladder, Ryan Cheng ’20 could not add on to the Eli lead at No. 6 singles: His 7–5, 6–1 loss allowed the Big Red to draw even at a 2–2 overall match score. Still dealing with minor swelling in his dominant wrist, Cheng competed well but simply could not muster up enough to claim a victory, according to head coach Alex Dorato.
The two sides traded victories at No. 2 and No. 5 singles to set the stage for a winner-take-all matchup at No. 4 singles. The deciding match came down to a tussle between Yale’s Stefan Doehler ’18, who has struggled in Ancient Eight play, and Cornell’s freshman Pietro Rimondini.
Rimondini took a convincing 6–2 first set and seemed to be in good shape to guide the Big Red to victory, but Doehler responded with a 6–2 set of his own to push the match to a decisive final set. With all eyes on their matchup, Doehler and Rimondini battled back and forth until a 7–4 tiebreaker pushed the No. 4 singles result and overall match score in Cornell’s favor. Yale went toe-to-toe with a top 26 team in the country, but ultimately, fell short in the match’s most pivotal moments.
“I can’t complain,” Dorato said following the loss. “We competed and played very well. [It’s] just heartbreaking when you come that close to beating a good team like that.”
Yale never came quite as close to toppling the No. 23 team in the nation in its visit to Columbia the following day. The Lions handily took the doubles point and ran away with their sixth Ancient Eight victory of the year to clinch a share of the Ivy League title.
Opening play, Andrienko and Hagermoser lost by a two-break margin for the first time this conference season at No. 1 doubles. Playing against brothers Richard and Victor Pham, currently ranked as the No. 57 pairing in the country, Yale’s top doubles team fell in a 6–2 final. The Lions capitalized on this lead and shortly thereafter won the doubles point with a more competitive 6–4 final at No. 3 doubles.
Unlike Cornell the day before, Columbia did not allow the Elis to get back into the match after emerging victorious from doubles play. The Lions quickly opened up a 4–0 lead to ensure their victory with sequential straight-set triumphs at No. 6, No. 5 and No. 2 singles.
Still, both sides played out their matches to completion. King earned his second win of the weekend at the No. 3 spot to bring his freshman year win total to 32, the highest number of wins for a Yale player in at least the past three decades, according to Dorato.
Lu also ended the weekend in the win column, as he defeated Columbia’s Shawn Hadavi in a 10–5 super tiebreaker. This win brought the final score to 5–2 and solidified Lu’s perfect 7–0 record at the No. 1 singles spot in his final run through the Ivy League.
“I honestly felt like I got a little lucky,” Lu said. “I really do, because I’m basically playing seven really good guys [throughout the Ivy season] and for me to pick up seven wins, I needed to get lucky a little bit to do that.”
Yale’s 2–5 Ivy record places the Bulldogs at sixth place in the conference after finishing last place with an 0–7 record last year.