Sports | Tennis

Men's tennis finds success in split-squad action

Men’s tennis capitalized upon dynamic efforts up and down the roster in a strong showing this weekend in split-squad action at the Alabama Invitational and the Ivy Plus Invitational.

The Light Blue sent its underclassmen to Tuscaloosa for the invitational accompanied by associate head coach Howard Endelman, CC ’87. Despite the absence of head coach Bid Goswami, the group dazzled across the board, capturing numerous individual victories on the weekend. 

“The weekend in Tuscaloosa was unbelievable,” Goswami said. “Tulane, Memphis, and Alabama are all top-30 teams, and we showed that we were able to compete with them at that level.”

Sophomores Victor Pham and Will Matheson excelled in singles play with undefeated records in three matches. Pham, ranked No. 113 in the ITA’s most recent rankings, topped Tulane’s No. 66 Constantin Schmitz 6-4, 6-4, and followed that impressive victory with another upset over the Memphis’ No. 52 Andrew Watson 6-3, 6-4. 

Matheson’s three victories extended his undefeated streak in singles play this season to six matches. The Auckland, New Zealand native won three consecutive straight-set matches, and in doing so, took advantage of the opportunity to showcase his tremendous progress to the coaching staff.

Goswami, who could not find room for Matheson in his lineup a season ago, came away impressed with the play of each sophomore. Although he was not able to watch the matches, Goswami explained that the results alone speak volumes about the potential value that Matheson could add to his lineup. 

First-years Jackie Tang, Alex Keyser, and Adam Ambrozy—fresh off solid debuts in their first college tournaments—continued the dominant trend for the Lions in singles play. Tang swept both of his matches against Tulane and Memphis. Similarly, Keyser swept his three matches against the Green Wave, Tigers, and Crimson Tide, while Ambrozy went 1-2 in three three-set matches.

“Jackie [Tang] had two really impressive victories, Alex Keyser won all three matches, and Will Matheson went 3-0,” Goswami said. “I personally think that it was a really good showing, because I knew those teams were really good.”

The seamless transition of the first-years from newly minted recruits to integral members of the team, according to Goswami, will be critical for the sustained success of the Light Blue going forward.

But despite the success in singles play, the Lions hit a barricade in doubles play, going 2-8 overall. Because the doubles set format at this tournament was far different from that of the norm—one set was played to eight games—the Light Blue had a difficult time adjusting to the difference in scoring. The only Columbia victories came on the backs of two 8-3 victories over Tulane by pairs consisting of junior Michal Rolski and Ambrozy along with sophomores Jack Turchetta and Timothy Wang.

In Princeton, where the Lions upperclassmen played in various draws, the play of reigning Ivy League Player of the Year and senior Shawn Hadavi led the Light Blue to a series of dominant wins in the Ivy Plus Invitational. 

Hadavi, ranked at No. 55 by ITA, anchored the first singles position for much of the spring dual season a year ago, capturing the championship in the Tiger Draw, winning four consecutive matches against unranked and ranked opponents alike to take the title. Hadavi found himself in difficult matches earlier in the tournament, before breezing by South Carolina’s first-seeded and No. 30 junior Gabriel Friedrich 6-2, 6-2. 

Goswami highlighted Hadavi’s poise, particularly with the pressure of playing up to the standard set by last year’s dominance.

“Shawn wasn’t playing his absolute best, but he kept on fighting,” Goswami said. “Today [Sunday] he played probably one of the best matches I’ve seen him play to win the tournament.”

Senior Miguel Alda shined in singles play, going 2-2 on the weekend with victories over Buffalo’s Filip Grbic and Wisconsin’s Chase Colton. Despite dropping two singles matches, Alda’s ability to stay close in every match is a skill that should benefit him going forward, per Goswami’s assessment.

Senior Richard Pham, who anchored the fifth singles spot for the Lions a year ago, 
capped off a tough weekend in singles, going winless in two matches in the Lenz Draw. 

With doubles play, unlike in Tuscaloosa, the Lions shined. The No. 7 pair of Hadavi and the senior Pham won two of three singles matches but was unable to finish off the testy Tennessee duo of Timo Stodder and Matt Jones, falling 8-5 in the final round.

Overall, Goswami was pleased with the play of the Lions at the invitationals, stressing the importance of the fall tournaments as a testament to what is to come in the near future.

“I was very happy with the results,” Goswami said. “I just wanted to give a lot of guys a chance to play this weekend and hoped they would play well. They did just that.”

The Lions will next head to Tulsa, Oklahoma for the nine-day All-American Tournament which commences on Oct. 1. 

christopher.lopez@columbiaspectator.com | @CUSpecSports

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