The men’s tennis team’s past decade has undeniably been one of ascent. However, the reason for this positive shift is rather unclear because, all in all, the Columbia men’s tennis program has not changed much within these years. The Dick Savitt Tennis Center has remained the team’s home court. The Light Blue still practices for outdoor matches in Riverside Park, making it the only ranked Division I school without outdoor tennis courts. Former head coach Bid Goswami was already in the 28th season of his tenure when the decade opened—his calm, concise method of coaching remained a constant.
However, with the new decade came the return of Howard Endelman, CC ʼ87, a former Columbia tennis team captain and coach of the women’s program between 1989 and 1992. Endelman joined his old mentor as assistant coach before taking over as head coach after Goswami’s retirement in 2019.
Moreover, the entire nature of college tennis has become more competitive, and with it, so have the Lions.
“When I was first recruited, Columbia was No. 45 in the rankings, but Howie and Bid had bigger plans to make Columbia tennis the greatest team of all time,” Victor Pham, CC ’19, the 2018 and 2019 Ivy League Player of the Year, said in a 2019 interview.
The program entered the 2010s winning back-to-back Ancient Eight crowns, but was nowhere near the program it is now. Its current iteration regularly sits in the top 15 in Intercollegiate Tennis Association standings.
The 2011 dual season, however, was not one to be envied, nor was it reflective of the 2009 and 2010 squads, as the team went 2-5 in Ivy play, finishing sixth in the Ancient Eight. But at the start of the 2011-2012 season, the Lions brought in five Columbia College first-years—Max Schnur, Winston Lin, Ashok Narayana, Eric Jacobs, and Bert Vancura—who would steer the program back to victory. These five athletes, affectionately referred to as “the greatest generation,” led the program to two second-place finishes in the Ancient Eight standings before clinching the first of six consecutive Ivy League titles in 2014.
According to Goswami, it was the strength of the individual players that led to the Light Blue’s immense success throughout the decade.
“First of all, you have to be lucky. Then, you have to get the right people,” he said in a May 2019 interview.
However, the past seven seasons have not always been lucky. In 2015, then-senior tennis star Dragos Ignat was arrested for assault after smashing a bottle over the heads of two Columbia heavyweight rowers during a brawl at Mel’s Burger Bar. Ignat was slated to play No. 1 singles that season, but after his arrest, he was suspended from the University and kicked off the tennis team. Ignat was cleared of all charges in 2017 and graduated in 2018.
However, this deterrence did not stop the Lions, who went on to go undefeated in Ivy play later that season under the leadership of then-junior Shawn Hadavi, CC ʼ17.
The second half of the decade was marked by excellence. Men’s tennis has been a formidable program at Columbia since even before Goswami, but the team had not seen an era with a 158-57, 56-11 Ivy record; four Ivy League Player of the Year awards; six Ivy League titles; and three All-American awards: to Winston Lin in both 2014 and 2015 and to Jack Lin, CC ’21, in 2019.
This has undoubtedly been the most impressive era in Columbia men’s tennis history. After a disappointing start to the decade, Goswami and Endelman have truly created a top-tier program, unrivaled in the Ivy League. Four of nine undefeated Ancient Eight seasons are not the mark of a developing program, but one that has reached the crux of greatness.
However, due to the Ivy League’s cancellations of all spring sports, whether the Lions will be able to take home their seventh consecutive Ivy League title—their first under Endelman—will not be seen until 2021.
Tennis may be a sport played by individuals, but to choose a single player of the decade would not adequately reflect the Columbia team. The Lions play tennis like it is a team sport, something former head coach Bid Goswami instilled in the program when he first took the helm.
The Columbia men’s tennis players of the decade, however, are the greatest generation: Columbia College class of 2015 graduates Winston Lin, Ashok Narayana, Bert Vancura, Max Schnur, and Eric Jacobs. These five players spearheaded the program’s shift into a national powerhouse that was able to reach the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament and clinch six consecutive Ancient Eight crowns.
The greatest generation achieved an Intercollegiate Tennis Association No. 11 ranking—the highest ranking of any Ivy League school since Princeton in 1980. Since then, the Lions have reached a ranking high at No. 5 in February 2015.
From their time as first-years, it was evident that they had the potential to take the team to new heights. Schnur and Narayana quickly became a dominant doubles pair as Lin and Vancura reached No. 34 in doubles play. Lin took home the Ivy League Rookie of the Year award and eventually the Ivy League Player of the Year award in 2014.
Throughout their time at Columbia, both Lin and the duo would go on to break the top 10 in ITA rankings.
Part of the success of the greatest generation was its strength in both singles and doubles. Schnur and Narayana won the first national doubles title in program history when they clinched the Indoor National Championship doubles title in 2013. Lin became Columbia’s first NCAA All-American in a decade, winning the prestigious title in both 2014 and 2015 after reaching the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Singles Tournament.
However, it was not just the individual accolades that made the greatest generation of Columbia men’s team players of the decade; it was also the change in team culture. After coming second in the Ivy League in 2012 and 2013 with 5-2 records in both seasons, the greatest generation took the initiative to push the Lions over the edge to win the Ancient Eight crown.
“We had some heartbreaking losses my freshman and sophomore year. We really felt like we should have won the title. Coming into my junior year, it was way more urgent. We really felt as a team we have to win one of these days,” Winston Lin said in an interview with Spectator in 2019. “In 2014, there was a shift; there was more hunger, more desperation. There was an edge we were missing in our first few years.”
With the 2014 shift, the team began practicing harder and for more hours. Lin spoke about how Goswami and Endelman would make extra time for him to practice when he asked for it. The Light Blue went on to go undefeated, 7-0, in Ivy play. The team made its first appearance in the NCAA Team Tournament that year, falling in the Sweet 16 to University of Southern California.
But once the greatest generation won an Ivy League title, the momentum did not stop. In their senior year, the players once again took home a perfect record against Ivy competitors. However, in the first round of the NCAA tournament, the Light Blue dropped its match to Penn State.
“In 2015, we established ourselves nationally as a legitimate team. We showed it was not a one-off thing,” Lin said.
Lin and Schnur went on to play tennis professionally after their time at Columbia. Schnur competed in the doubles tournament at Wimbledon in 2017 but fell in his first match. He reached a ranking high of 95 in March 2017 and remains active on the pro circuit.
However, once the greatest generation graduated, this shift in culture did not end. It is undeniable that a team with six consecutive Ivy League titles and NCAA tournament appearances has not veered away from the hardworking and passionate environment that Lin, Narayana, Jacobs, Vancura, and Schnur set as the precedent.
“We set up a culture of pushing ourselves, and it’s good to see that it’s carried over,” Lin said.
If there was one individual who shaped the last decade of Columbia men’s tennis, it would be Bid Goswami. After joining the program in 1982, he spent his tenure developing men’s tennis into the Ivy League’s paragon of excellence for student-athletes. Throughout the 2010s, the team has not only won six consecutive Ancient Eight crowns but also routinely has the highest average GPA of all Columbia sports.
Goswami’s coaching tactic involved creating well-rounded individuals rather than incredible tennis players. He claimed that tennis is a sport that “teaches you about life,” and because of that, his biggest pride was watching his players find success after their time at the Dick Savitt Tennis Center.
“When I think of Bid, I think of somebody who cares about people more than anything. I think of the tennis sort of secondarily,” volunteer assistant coach Haig Schneiderman, CC ’12, said in an April 2019 interview. “He really cares about your life and the big picture, and that’s what makes him special.”
His calm, collected coaching style reflected that change, treating every player like they were playing at the No. 1 spot in order for every member of the team to have the same potential for development, both on and off the court.
"Bid Goswami is synonymous with Columbia University and Columbia men's tennis," Athletic Director Peter Pilling said in a May 2019 interview. “He is a genuine, humble leader who has always been focused on helping his student-athletes achieve more than they ever thought they were capable of accomplishing both on and off the court.”
After 37 years at the helm, Goswami retired after the 2019 dual season concluded. His successor was Howard Endelman, CC ’87, the team’s assistant coach and a member of Goswami’s first recruiting class.
Endelman is a much more vocal coach compared to Goswami; together, the pair created a strong team that was able to compete against the best schools in the country. While Goswami no longer leads the program, it is evident that Endelman is maintaining the same culture of excellence.
Under Endelman, the Lions have experienced continuous success. In the fall 2019 season, junior Jack Lin clinched the top singles title at the Ivy Plus tournament, as well as advanced to the semifinals of the ITA Oracle Masters tournament in late September. Senior Jackie Tang made it to the finals of the ITA Northeast regional, while Lin and Tang teamed up to win the doubles title at the ITA All-American. An impressive fall culminated in Lin’s loss in the quarterfinals of the ITA Fall Indoor Nationals.
Endelman coached his team to an impressive spring season as well, going 7-3, shutting out three of its opponents. However, it is yet to be seen how the new squad of Lions will do under Endelman in Ivy play as the season was canceled two weeks before the Light Blue’s Ivy opener against Cornell.
Next season, there will only be six players remaining who competed under Goswami. Whether the culture of excellence will be able to withstand the new era of Columbia men’s tennis is still up in the air; however, signs point to successful seasons for years to come.
“I know we’ll be competing for championships on a yearly basis,” Pilling said.
There are matches that define an era, and for Columbia men’s tennis, that match was against Cornell on April 27, 2019. However, this match was significant not only because it encapsulated the past decade of Columbia tennis, but it also closed the Goswami era.
The matchup against the Big Red was the final Ivy game for seniors Victor Pham, Tim Wang, and Will Matheson, CC ’19, but also for 37-year head coach Bid Goswami, who announced his impending retirement earlier that season. The sidelines of the Dick Savitt Tennis Center were filled to the brim—something that had not been seen all season—with students, faculty, alumni, and fans there to celebrate Goswami and watch the Light Blue fight for its sixth consecutive Ivy League title. If the Lions defeated the Big Red, they would clinch the Ancient Eight crown outright for the first time since 2016.
While the moment was tinged with emotions, the high quality of play throughout the course of the match cemented its reputation as the match of the decade.
This was not an easy match for the Lions, despite coming off two shutouts and a Harvard matchup where they only let the Crimson capture one point. Cornell came in swinging, swiftly defeating the tandem of then-junior Adam Ambrozy and then-sophomore Jason Lui at third doubles. But the Light Blue responded quickly with a 6-2 win from Pham and then-sophomore Rian Pandole, equalizing the two teams with one doubles win apiece. The early lead came down to the No. 32 pairing of Matheson and then-sophomore Jack Lin at top doubles. When Pandole and Pham claimed their victory, Matheson and Lin were leading 5-3*. All it took for the doubles point was Matheson opening up the court with an inside-in forehand return of serve, leaving No. 37 Daniel Soyfer and David Volfson reeling.
Singles amped up the pressure for the Lions as the Big Red captured five of the six first sets. However, No. 33 Pham, the only player to not fall in his first set, swiftly defeated No. 100 Alafia Ayeni at top singles in straight sets 6-2, 6-1. This win cemented Pham’s perfect 7-0 record in Ivy play for his senior season.
However, after Pham pushed the Lion’s to a 2-0 lead, Cornell quickly responded with a pair of wins over the Light Blue.
At sixth singles, then-sophomore Austen Huang was unable to fend off his competitor after forcing a tiebreaker in his first set. Huang would go down 7-6, 6-2.
Wang dropped his first set 6-3 but won his second set 6-3. Going into the third set, Wang began with extremely dominant play, easily taking the first two points of the set. However, in the end, those points would be the only two Wang would get, falling 6-2 in the third set and marking Wang’s first loss in Ivy play throughout his four years at Columbia.
This put Columbia and Cornell at a 2-2 tie.
At second singles, No. 22 Jack Lin, the sole Lion to not fall in his first set, was down 1*-4 in his second set. Lin rallied back from the deficit to win five consecutive games to push the Lions back in the lead 3-2 after a service winner when Volfson was unable to return Lin’s serve back over the net.
The only remaining courts were No. 122 Ambrozy and No. 107 Pandole at third and fourth singles respectively. If one of them lost, it would be down to the final court to decide whether the Lions would have sole ownership of the Ivy League title.
Both had come back from their first set losses to claim the second set. Ambrozy trailed behind Lev Kazakov 2-5 and fought back with a series of sharp forehands to lead Kazakov 7-6 in the third set. The tension at the Dick Savitt Tennis Center was palpable as Ambrozy’s fight raged on. The then-junior was obviously exhausted as his grunts became louder and more worn, his swings wilder.
The cheers appeared to work, as Ambrozy ripped a dominant forehand that Kazakov was unable to return. The team piled onto Ambrozy. In Goswami’s final regular-season game of his tenure, the Lions had won sole ownership of the Ancient Eight crown.
“The win is always the same. It’s always a great feeling. I still get butterflies before every match, whether we’re playing the worst team in the Ivies or the best team,” Goswami said after the game.