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Ben Goldsmith / Senior Staff Photographer

Sophomore Jackie Tang was crowned the singles champion at the MLK Invitational this weekend after winning three straight matches in dominant fashion.

Men’s tennis began its quest for a fifth consecutive Ivy League title at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Invitational in Atlanta, Georgia with a vengeance, outshining Georgia, Georgia Tech, and Illinois last weekend.

The Lions, ranked No. 23 in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association rankings, saw dominant performances from No. 19 junior Victor Pham, No. 38 sophomore Jackie Tang, and first-year Jack Lin, showcasing tremendous depth against elite competition. While the matches were not counted, each match will contribute toward each player’s individual record and ranking.

Playing matches on three consecutive days, Pham, Tang and Lin—who played in the first, second and third singles positions the entire tournament—combined to go 8-1 in nine matches, tallying six straight-set victories and dominating throughout.

Against Georgia, which is ranked No. 4 in the country, Pham, Tang and Lin won at first, second and third singles over three ranked opponents, ranked No. 25, 33, and 66, respectively.

Pham collected his fourth victory over ranked opponents this season, topping the Bulldogs’ Emil Reinberg 6-4, 4-6, 6-2 at first singles, while Tang followed up with a straight-set, 7-6(4), 7-5 victory over Georgia’s Walker Duncan. While Pham would go on to drop a match against Georgia Tech’s No. 85 Carlos Divar in three sets, he finished his weekend with a resounding victory over Illinois’ Alex Brown, 6-4, 6-1.

Tang, who was named the tournament’s singles champion for his efforts, cruised past the Yellowjackets’ Chris Yun at third singles, and battled to a three-set, 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 victory over Illinois’ Zeke Clark at second singles.

But perhaps the most promising development was Lin’s outstanding play. The Canada native, who was one of the program’s most highly touted recruits this season, excelled this weekend for the Lions, and the MLK Invitational served as a showcase of sorts for Lin after three dominant victories.

First, Lin topped the Bulldogs’ Nathan Ponwith 6-4, 6-1 at third singles, followed up that victory with a win over Georgia Tech’s Phillip Gresk 6-3, 6-3, and finished his weekend with a triumph over Illinois’ Caleb Chakravarthi, 6-2, 6-4.

As he begins his 36th season at the helm of the Lions, head coach Bid Goswami noted that while the team’s fall was very strong overall, he was particularly impressed with Lin’s efforts.

“Jack [Lin] didn’t lose a set in singles, and he’s probably the best doubles player we have pound-for-pound,” Goswami said of the first-year. “He’s a great kid, works very hard, and has a great well-rounded game in his first year [at Columbia].”

In addition to the dominance in singles play from the top three of Columbia’s lineup, the rest of the Lions’ players fought admirably in Atlanta.

Junior co-captain Timothy Wang, undefeated in Ivy League play in his career and ranked No. 122 in the ITA rankings, followed up a straight-set defeat to Georgia’s Paul Oosterbaan with two victories over Georgia Tech’s Brandon Freestone and Illinois’ Aiden Jiang 6-3, 6-1 and 6-3, 6-0, respectively.

First-year Austen Huang won three matches in singles play, notching a trio of straight-set victories to cap off a successful weekend in singles play.

“I think Austen [Huang]—and he knows it—didn’t play as well as he could have in the fall,” Goswami said. “But he worked very hard, kept on working throughout the winter, and I think he’s playing much better, like this weekend.”

In doubles play, the Lions were unable to find a consistency similar to that in their singles play. The pair of Pham and Tang, ranked No. 15 in the ITA rankings and playing at first doubles, tallied three victories in three matches, narrowly defeating all three opponents buoyed in part by strong play at the net—a critical skill in doubles.

While the pair of Lin and Matheson, ranked No. 31 in the ITA rankings, captured the ITA Northeast Regional Championship, the duo was unable to rekindle its magic from the fall season, falling 6-2 in its lone match of the tournament. While Goswami shuffled around the pairs throughout the tournament, he admitted that the doubles pairings are still not finalized, but also said that the team’s depth will prove to be vital in creating three solid pairs going into Ancient Eight play.

“I thought this was our best MLK Tournament ever,” Goswami said. “We’re playing well, but we still have to tweak a few things in our doubles. All of them can get a little better, but I know that they will work even harder, especially when we do this well.”

Looking to continue its long home winning streak, the team will return to the Dick Savitt Tennis Center—where it possesses a strong home court advantage—to battle Old Dominion. First serve is Saturday at 1 p.m.

christopher.lopez@columbiaspectator.com | @CUSpecSports

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