For those of you lazy enough not to look underneath my headshot, the title of my column is “Squeaky Bum Time.” It is a phrase coined by a man that I dislike, but respect very much: Sir Alex Ferguson. Ferguson has managed Manchester United for over 25 years and has said a lot of quotable phrases along the way. The one I chose was part of his famous mind games when Man U was in title contention for the ’02-’03 Premiership. The quote was, “It’s getting tickly now—squeaky-bum time, I call it.” To better understand this term, you have to look no further than the Columbia men’s tennis team.
The Ivy League season couldn’t have opened better for the Light Blue. First, Columbia downed the defending Ivy League champion Cornell in a hard-fought match. Next up was the Big Green from Dartmouth, which was ranked No. 67 in the nation at the time and was riding a seven-match winning streak. Columbia came out on top. The third and perhaps most difficult challenge was against Ivy favorite, Harvard. The Crimson had a 16-1 record, which garnered them a national ranking of No. 20. And you guessed it: The Lions won another tight one off the back of a heroic performance by freshman Winston Lin.
So, sitting at 3-0 in the league, the Lions had four games left against teams who were all ranked lower than them. Winning the league looked more likely than not. A weekend series away at Yale and Brown seemed more like a formality, as the two teams had only one Ivy League win between them.
Cue the squeaky bums. On Saturday against Yale, the Lions lost, 4-3, because of tightness, literally. Tied at 3-3, the match was going to be decided by the No. 3 singles spot, which came down to the third set. Nathaniel Gery for the Lions was up a break and two games away from securing a victory. Then something strange happened. His legs started cramping. Although it would have been extremely difficult to close out the match with this injury, it is still definitely possible if you’re able to pull off some big serves. Unfortunately, he didn’t get the chance, as he was penalized a point two different times for taking too long: Once when he attempted to drink Gatorade and again on match point for staying on the ground too long. Game, set, match. The next day at Brown, the Lions seemed shell-shocked and never really got going, losing 5-2.
There are a number of possible explanations for these losses. Columbia has always been at a bit of a disadvantage when going away in the Ivy League because it doesn’t practice on outdoor courts. Despite their lower rankings, Yale and Brown are still good teams, and Ivy League matches are always more intense than nonconference ones. I believe it was the top spot the Lions were sitting on that got to them. How else can you explain, in the 19th match of the season, a peculiar thing like cramping deciding a match?
Not all is lost for the Lions this season, though. They still sit tied for second in the league, which means an Ivy League title is a possibility. The Light Blue has its last two matches this weekend, which it must win in order to have a chance. Harvard is now the team sitting on top of the league, and it has three games to try and close out the title. Hopefully the Crimson will start squirming around in that seat and get some squeaky bums.
Ronnie Shaban is a senior in the School of Engineering and Applied Science majoring in mechanical engineering.
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