From last year until now, the women’s tennis team has put together an impressive string of successes that has made it into one of the top programs in the Northeast. But that doesn’t mean the team hasn’t had its share of hiccups.
Fresh off of winning its first ever ECAC title, the Light Blue headed down to Atlanta to face Georgia State on Feb. 22, but came back empty-handed. Afterward, head coach Ilene Weintraub, CC ’02, called the loss a “wake-up call,” saying the Lions had to come out and play like one of the top teams in the nation each and every week.
“I think it happened for a reason,” Weintraub said over the weekend. “We always try to say, ‘Never a failure, always a lesson,’ and so that’s what we took away from that loss.”
One of those lessons had to do with dealing with adversity. It’s often said in sports that the best teams find ways to win. Given its recent success, it isn’t much of a surprise that Columbia has adopted that mantra.
“Sometimes I think our players are too hard on themselves when they’re not playing their best tennis,” Weintraub said. “Instead of letting that overcome them, I want them to be able to find a way to make it work, to get the result they want.”
This approach was successful last weekend, when the Light Blue took down now-No. 58 Kansas State and No. 26 Memphis.
Though senior Bianca Sanon prevailed in both of her singles matches, neither victory came all that easily. Sanon won her Friday match 6-2, 6-2, but said she had trouble with everything but her forehand, leading her to set up everything to play off of it. Then, on Sunday, she prevailed in a three-set marathon, 6-4, 6-7 (3-7), 6-2. Sanon had a match point during the second set and let it slip away, but then floored it once the third set came around and took the victory.
“Bouncing back and staying focused—that’s just experience,” Sanon said. “I’ve been doing this for four years, and being up in a match point in the second set, and then losing the set in the tiebreaker—a lot of it just comes with experience.”
Another place where Sanon’s experience came through was in doubles. She and sophomore partner Kanika Vaidya have risen to No. 17, but still face their share of challenges. On Sunday, Sanon and Vaidya were down a break at 4-3 when they made a key adjustment and won five consecutive games to win the match.
“So I wasn’t doing very well at the baseline, but Kani was really, really steady,” Sanon said. “So we decided after two or three shots, I’m just going to come to the net, she’ll set me up, and we’ll finish it that way.”
“The whole match, I was trying to stay strong and let Bianca get her timing back, and when she did, it just clicked,” Vaidya added.
No. 59 Vaidya had been struggling herself in one-on-one competition—she dropped a 7-5, 6-2 match on Friday—but she came back strong against Memphis, trouncing her opponent in a 6-1, 6-4 victory.
“I think coming out and serving strong was a really big key for me,” Vaidya said. “It was nice feeling my game come back a little bit because I feel like the last week and a half or two, it’s been off a little bit.”
But no player embodied finding a way to win more than first-year Tina Jiang, who battled through leg cramps to win her third set and clinch the Memphis match for the Light Blue.
“I just wanted to make sure I kept all the balls on my side in the court, and that way, no matter what happened, she hit one more ball,” Jiang said. “And that helped because I was able to keep hitting my shots. Make her miss was essentially all I was hoping for by then.”
And now, with just a handful of matches left before conference play begins on March 29, the Lions look ready to find a way to hang another banner in the rafters of the Dick Savitt Tennis Center.