Even when most members of the Yale men’s and women’s tennis teams had finished with the fall season, Jessie Gong ’22 and Samantha Martinelli ’21 had some unfinished business. They marched into the ITA Fall National Championships in Newport Beach this past weekend on a hot streak and came in undefeated as a duo.
Despite losing in the first round, the pair finished as finalists in the consolation draw. In singles play, Martinelli lost in the semifinals of the consolation bracket.
Earlier this year, the pair made history after winning the ITA All-American Championship in October, marking the first time an Ancient Eight women’s tennis student-athlete won the tournament.
“[That was] the first All-American championship in women’s singles or doubles in the history of the tournament from the Ivy League,” head coach Danielle McNamara said of the duo’s earlier win. “On the men’s side, there have only been two Ivy champions — one came [that same weekend], and the other is from ATP legend James Blake. So [it’s] a very historic win.”
Gong and Martinelli were riding a momentous wave and came into Newport Beach as the reigning All-American champions, having gone undefeated at both the Bulldog and Wolverine Invitationals earlier in the fall. This event is one of three major NCAA college tennis tournaments, along with the All-American Championships and the NCAA Tournament in the spring.
In Newport Beach, Martinelli first participated in singles. She fell to her first-round opponent from UC Berkeley, with a final scoreline of 6–3, 6–2. In doubles play, things did not get much better for the Elis. Gong and Martinelli — the second seed of the draw — dropped their first-round match to an unseeded team from USC, 6–1, 6–4.
Despite the disappointing first-round results, Yale looked to bounce back and perform well in the consolation draws. Martinelli won her match against Livia Kraus of Baylor, ranked No. 39 in the nation, by a score of 6–3, 6–3. In doubles, Gong and Martinelli won a thriller over Stanford, winning a decisive third-set tiebreaker 10–7 in the process.
In the next round, Martinelli found herself down one set against an opponent from UCF. But she buckled down and won the next two sets with determination for a final score of 6–7, 6–4, 6–1. In doubles, the duo defeated opponents from Michigan in straight sets.
Martinelli unfortunately lost in the following round, the semifinals, against No. 88 Carolyn Campana of Wake Forest. This marked the end of Martinelli’s singles campaign for 2019. However, she gathered herself fairly quickly as Yale defeated Auburn in dominant fashion, winning 6–3, 6–2 to gain a spot in the finals of the consolation bracket.
“It was definitely the best fall season I have had in my time at Yale,” Martinelli said.
In the finals, Gong and Martinelli lost a whirlwind against the No. 19 doubles team from Georgia. Despite losing the first set 6–1, the Bulldogs pushed back and took the second set 6–2. However, their efforts were not enough. They lost 6–1, 2–6, 10–8.
Gong and Martinelli entered the season as the No. 29 doubles squad in the nation, but have thus far surpassed expectations. They won 11 straight matches throughout the fall season, with the streak ending this past Wednesday. They have added their names to the mix as a team to be reckoned with, having performed well at multiple tournaments — most notably by claiming the ITA All-American Championships title in October.
As a singles player, Martinelli has asserted herself as a dominant force at number one singles for the Bulldogs. She is currently 12–5 on the season, with half of those wins coming against nationally ranked opponents.
“Overall we’re pretty happy with how the fall season went,” Gong said. “We had some good wins, but we also learned a lot. It’s a solid foundation to build on for the spring and we are excited for what’s to come!”
The fall season has officially concluded for the women’s tennis team. The Bulldogs will resume action in mid-January against St. John’s University.
Akshar Agarwal | email@example.com