When sophomore Jackie Tang finished off a 4-6, 6-1, 6-2 victory to clinch Sunday’s match for the Lions, most of his teammates rushed the court, celebrating for a moment after a successful weekend.
A few minutes later, in the team’s huddle after the match, junior and co-captain Timothy Wang addressed his team. While the accomplishment of qualifying for the Intercollegiate Tennis Association National Team Indoor Championships was of the utmost importance, he noted, there was still work to be done.
Emotions were high as the team relished the opportunity to advance to Seattle—where the ITA National Team Indoors will be held—for the third time in four seasons.
Columbia (3-0) is the only Ivy League team to ever qualify for the ITA National Team Indoors, and it will enter the tournament in three weeks with its name firmly etched among the nation’s powerhouses in college tennis, a feat not lost on head coach Bid Goswami and associate head coach Howard Endelman, CC ’87.
“I’m really proud of the boys, but I’m also really proud of the program,” Goswami said. “This just doesn’t happen very often, and I couldn’t be more happy.”
As for the match, after the No. 17-ranked Lions’ dominant performance against Mississippi a day earlier, the No. 25 Red Raiders (10-2) knocked off then-No. 15 host Virginia to advance to Sunday’s final after victories in doubles and fourth, fifth, and sixth singles.
After dropping the doubles point against Mississippi a day earlier, Goswami made no alterations to the lineup, keeping his two ranked doubles teams intact at the top of the lineup.
At first doubles, the No. 15-ranked pair of Tang and junior Victor Pham bounced back from a 6-1 defeat on Saturday, topping the Red Raiders’ No. 33 Connor Curry and Artem Kapshuk 6-3, putting the Lions just one match away from clinching the crucial doubles point.
The duos of first-year Jack Lin and junior Will Matheson, ranked No. 31 in the ITA rankings, and senior Michal Rolski and sophomore Adam Ambrozy were locked in tight matches at second and third doubles, respectively. But with Lin and Rolski serving up 5-4, both were broken easily squandering an opportunity to close their respective matches.
And after holding at 5-6, both teams headed into a tiebreak, where the Lions would need just one victory to secure the doubles point.
That victory would come at second doubles, where, on the backs of tremendous volleys from Lin and Matheson, the duo secured a 7-3 win in the tiebreak, finishing off the Red Raiders’ No. 29-ranked pair of Jackson Cobb and Alex Sendegeya 7-6(3). Though the match of Rolski and Ambrozy went unfinished, the duo trailed 6-3 in the tiebreak upon the completion of the second doubles match.
“It was huge for us to get the doubles point first, unlike against Ole Miss,” Goswami said. “I thought Jack [Lin] and Will [Matheson] played really well.”
With the doubles point in hand, the Light Blue needed just three victories in singles play to finish off Texas Tech. While the team captured five first sets the day before, the Red Raiders put up a fight, as the teams split first sets evenly, with the Lions taking first sets at first, third, and sixth singles.
The first victory for the Lions came at sixth singles, where No. 122-ranked Wang’s 6-2, 6-2 victory improved his record in dual matches to 3-0 on the season. In addition, Wang finished his match first in all three matches, a fact that was not lost on Goswami.
“Timmy has been a phenomenal part of the bottom of the lineup,” Goswami said. “He’s just so consistent. He runs down balls, and doesn’t have a big game, but he’s so tough. Someone has to bring their lunch and dinner to beat him. Tim is just the perfect player [in sixth singles].”
After Ambrozy could not replicate his performance from the day before, falling 7-5, 6-0 and losing eight consecutive games, Columbia needed to win just two of the four remaining matches to advance to Seattle.
At first singles, Pham, ranked No. 19 in the ITA rankings, was entrenched in a battle against Texas Tech’s Tommy Mylnikov, a Canada native who was one of the nation’s highest recruits in the class of 2019, per tennisrecruiting.net.
After cruising in the first set 6-1, Pham inexplicably began struggling with his serve, and was broken in four consecutive games to start the set. To his credit, Pham broke Mylnikov twice on the Red Raider’s first two service games, but with the score at 2-5 and Mylnikov at serve, Pham faced an uphill battle to win the set.
But Pham, who beat the then No. 3 ITA-ranked player, Wake Forest’s Petros Chrysochos, during the fall, demonstrated his resilience and would rally off five consecutive games to win the match, with a critical break on deuce point at 6-5 to win the match in dramatic fashion, 6-1, 7-5.
“Victor was hitting the ball really well in the first set, so I went to him and told him to get back to work when he was down in the second,” Goswami said. “He had a great first serve, and all he did was keep fighting.”
Despite dropping the first set, the clincher would come from Tang, ranked No. 38 in the ITA rankings. Playing at second singles, Tang fell just short in the first set, falling 6-4. But the Hong Kong native would respond with a vengeance, winning 12 of the next 15 games for a 4-6, 6-1, 6-2 victory over Texas Tech’s Connor Curry for the fourth and decisive point for the Lions.
On match point, Tang served to Curry’s backhand, and after Curry’s return went long, the team rushed to Tang’s court, jumping up and down, cherishing the moment.
While the 4-1 scoreline does not indicate the closeness of the match, as both Lin and fellow first-year Austen Huang were enthralled in three-set matches, Goswami was pleased with the team’s performance, and thrilled that his team would advance to the ITA National Team Indoors.
The Lions will prepare to continue yet another magical season, with the weight of a potential fifth-straight Ivy title steadily approaching.
Vanderbilt awaits this Saturday at the Dick Savitt Tennis Center. First serve is slated for 1 p.m.