First-year Jackie Tang had never played with Chien Hsun Lo prior to the 2016 U.S. Open junior boys’ doubles draw. In the pair’s run to the quarterfinals, Tang’s poise immediately caught the eye of Columbia associate head coach Howard Endelman, CC ’87.
“To have the confidence and to have the courage to go out and beat guys at that level, it just takes something a little bit extra,” Endelman said. “You really have to go out there and believe, and have the grit to persevere, even when the conditions are a little tough.”
It was also the first major tournament on U.S. soil for Tang, a native of Hong Kong. He had to travel the world to get attention from American coaches, most of whom had never seen him play.
“I never played in any USTA tournaments—I had to play the ITFs, the International Tennis Federation tournaments to get my world ranking” Tang said. “So they [the coaches] just looked at my results and went off the words of other people.”
But that wasn't the case for either Alex Keyser or Adam Ambrozy, the other two members of the ninth-best recruiting class in the country. Their roads to Columbia were far more conventional, but their signature moments were anything but.
At the ITA All-American Tournament in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Keyser accomplished a feat only matched by three first-years in the event’s history, winning seven consecutive matches over four days to reach the main draw.
“Obviously when I first got there, I didn’t think I was going to go that far. I expected to be home by the first Sunday,” Keyser said. “So starting off like that just gives me confidence.”
Like Tang, Keyser took his unique opportunity and flourished when the spotlight was at its brightest. Along the way, he showed glimpses of the player that the coaches had their eyes on for years.
Meanwhile, Ambrozy has qualified for the prestigious ITF Futures tournaments, capping a fall that has seen the first-year reach three sets in seven of his 10 matches.
“Beginning of the year I didn’t really do too hot—I lost to a lot of players on the team,” Ambrozy said. “But in the last couple weeks I’ve started beating the guys and feeling my game more.”
Ambrozy’s coaches and teammates alike praised his work ethic on and off the court, in the weight room and the classroom. Through the eyes of Endelman, a former player at Columbia in his own right, Ambrozy’s desire to improve has been evident through his consistent commitment to working hard.
Graphic by Alex Andrejev / Staff Designer
“It took Adam [Ambrozy] a little bit of time, and I think he’s coming along,” head coach Bid Goswami said.
Ambrozy’s improvement was largely aided by the team culture maintained by the coaches and players—a culture that ultimately attracted Tang, Keyser, and Ambrozy to Morningside Heights.
“Over the summer, before I committed, four of the Columbia guys came over to Hong Kong and trained with me,” Tang said. “They were just great guys, and the team seemed like a family.”
Keyser added that the coaching staff has created a dynamic conducive to growth inside and outside the comforts of the Savitt Center. It all adds up to a Class of 2020 that, according to sophomore Timothy Wang, may be even better than its national ranking.
The whole team, including the coaches, has been very impressed by the way the class has performed in the fall season so far. Sophomore Timothy Wang mentioned how despite coming in with high expectations—the class was ranked number nine in the nation by the tennis recruiting network—they have possibly even outperformed that ranking.
Endelman went so far as to say that the trio has the potential to make its mark on the national stage.
“All three of them are certainly good enough to be at the least top 60 in college tennis,” he said. “But I think they all have the potential to be All-Americans.”
While Goswami pointed out that there will be tough times ahead, he noted that the Class of 2020 can become one of the best in Columbia’s history—perhaps even better than the Greatest Generation.
“If they do the work and if they keep on going, I think they have a great future,” Goswami said. “The world is their oyster.”