Coming into the Intercollegiate Tennis Association National Team Indoor Championship, No. 9 men’s tennis was in for an uphill battle. The prestigious 16-team tournament, held in Madison, Wisconsin, brought together some of the best Division I tennis talent in the country.
This was the third consecutive season—and the fifth time in six years—the Lions (5-2) participated in the tournament. The team earned the honor after besting then-No. 14 Oklahoma State and then-No. 16 University of Tennessee at the ITA Kickoff Weekend in January. During the first round of the indoor championship, the 12th-seeded Light Blue faced No. 3 University of Florida, which was seeded fifth. However, these rankings are outdated as the ITA made the decision in 2011 to no longer release new rankings the week of National Indoors.
The Gators (11-2) were bound to be a challenging competitor, bolstered with five ranked singles players—three within the top 25—and three ranked doubles pairs. In comparison, Columbia only has three ranked singles players—No. 20 junior Jack Lin, No. 99 first-year Alex Kotzen, and No. 109 senior Jackie Tang—and the one ranked tandem of No. 5 Lin and Tang.
The Lions and the Gators had not competed since March 1989, but Florida had defeated Columbia the five times the teams had faced one another up until that point.
On Friday, that number rose to six as the Light Blue was shut out by Florida 4-0 in the first round of National Indoors.
On the doubles court, the Lions switched up its pairings, placing junior Rian Pandole with senior Adam Ambrozy at second doubles and junior Jason Lui with Kotzen at third doubles. However, this was to no avail as Florida captured the early lead with wins at top doubles and over Lui and Kotzen.
Singles proved to be no easier of a task as five of six Lions lost their first sets. In an interesting choice by the Gators, its top-ranked singles players—No. 4 Sam Riffice and No. 11 Duarte Vale—competed at second and third singles respectively. Riffice went on to widen the Gators’ lead over Columbia when he defeated Tang 6-3, 6-0. Vale quickly followed, triumphing over Pandole in straight sets 6-3, 6-1. The match was cemented as Lin was swiftly bested by No. 23 Oliver Crawford, taking the Lions out of contention for the national title at stake.
However, in the consolation draw the next day, the team came back swinging. After dropping the doubles point for the third consecutive matchup, the Lions had to battle No. 14 South Carolina (6-3) in singles to clinch the win.
It was a tale of two tournaments, however, as four of six Lions captured their first sets. Kotzen went on to equalize the match with an impressive 6-3, 6-2 win over the Gamecocks’ Philip Jordan. In sixth singles, junior Austen Huang mirrored Kotzen’s performance with another 6-3, 6-2 triumph. Huang remains the only Columbia player that has competed in singles in the dual season to remain undefeated.
This was equalized shortly after as Pandole lost to No. 36 Daniel Rodrigues 6-2, 6-4. The Gamecocks were unable to capitalize on the 2-2 tie, however, as Tang was victorious 6-4, 7-5 over No. 38 Raphael Lambling after forcing a tiebreaker in the second set. It was Ambrozy who cemented the Lions’ win as he took home his first ranked win of the dual season against No. 115 Connor Thomson 6-4, 7-6 (3).
The Light Blue had a similar performance against No. 12 Baylor (8-3), during which the team triumphed 4-2 over the Bears.
Unlike the Florida team, which has not played Columbia for over three decades, Baylor is a familiar foe for the Lions. The Light Blue has competed against Baylor for the past three seasons, and the matchup’s all-time record is 3-1 in Columbia’s favor.
For the first time during the span of the tournament, Columbia was able to clinch the early advantage. Lui and Kotzen bested their opponents 6-2, but their win instantly followed by a 6-2 loss from Tang and Lin against No. 17 Sven Lah and Constantin Frantzen.
Pandole and Ambrozy notched the doubles point victory at second doubles, capturing an impressive ranked win over No. 23 Matias Soto and Ryan Dickerson 6-4.
Singles were a different story as the team won its first sets on only three of six courts. However, this evenly-matched play was ruptured by Tang’s 6-2, 6-2 loss to No. 25 Lah. The tie did not remain for long, as Ambrozy captured the win in straight sets 6-3, 6-4; Huang expanded the lead as he defeated No. 82 Frantzen 7-5, 7-5 after forced tiebreakers in both sets.
Kotzen lost his first singles match of the dual season after a nail-biting 7-6 (2), 6-4 match. This loss did not deter the Lions, however, as Lin came back from a dropped first set to clinch the match over No. 67 Soto 3-6, 6-3, 6-2.
After facing four back-to-back top-20 competitors, men’s tennis will travel to Evanston, Illinois to face DePaul on Feb. 28 and Northwestern on Feb. 29.