Sports | Tennis

Title aspirations in jeopardy for No. 33 women’s tennis after weekend split

  • Youjin Jenny Jang / Senior Staff Photographer
    Singled out | First-year Tina Jiang was the only member of the Lions’ squad to pull off a singles victory over the Bulldogs, defeating her opponent in the second singles match, 6-2, 6-2.

After a dominating win over Brown on Saturday, the No. 33 women’s tennis team couldn’t find a way to capture its 12th match in a row, falling to No. 59 Yale, 5-2. The loss severely hampered the Light Blue’s chances of winning the Ivy championship outright, though Columbia remains in the thick of the title chase.

The Lions (15-3, 4-1 Ivy) started off well against the three-time defending Ivy champion, Yale (11-8, 3-1 Ivy), winning the doubles point from the first and third courts. The No. 22 duo of senior Bianca Sanon and sophomore Kanika Vaidya was first off the court with an 8-3 victory, and seniors Ioana Alecsiu and Tiana Takenaga came through with an 8-4 win to clinch the doubles point.

With a 1-0 lead, Columbia began singles play well, capturing four of the six first sets. But, after that, the Lions couldn’t withstand the Bulldogs’ ferocious attack and ended up losing five of the six singles matches. 

“We started off really strong. I thought we played very good doubles—excellent doubles,” head coach Ilene Weintraub, CC ’02, said. “I think the girls played with too much emotion in the second set instead of strategy, and that’s something we’re going to talk about to improve for the future.”

No. 80 Vaidya was first to drop her match at No. 1, falling 6-4, 6-4. Moving up in the lineup to play in the No. 2 position, first-year Tina Jiang was the only singles winner on Sunday. Her dominant 6-2, 6-2 victory brought her record in dual and conference matches to 15-0, and once again put Columbia ahead in the match, 2-1.

“She’s just so super talented, and she has such a crafty game style that she really deserves that,” Weintraub said of Jiang. “She’s been incredibly solid, and incredibly mentally tough. She is a fighter and she also has every weapon in the book.”

Yet that was the last point Columbia could muster. After Sanon and Takenaga both dropped their third sets at No. 3 and No. 5, respectively, the onus of maintaining the Light Blue’s undefeated Ivy record fell on junior Crystal Leung and Alecsiu. The decisive blow came when Alecsiu dropped her third set, 6-2. 

Leung came closest of the remaining Lions to winning her match—she had a 5-2 advantage in the second set after winning her first—but allowed Ree Ree Li to win five consecutive games to take the second set. Leung also had a 4-1 advantage in the third, but again gave up five straight games to give Li the victory.

“For whatever reason, they weren’t thinking. They were feeling on the court,” Weintraub said of the Lions players. “I think that ultimately cost us the match because once Yale evened out the score on those four courts, we kind of looked like we were a little tired out there.”

The loss overshadowed the Lions’ stellar performance on Saturday, when the Light Blue beat the Bears (13-7, 2-2 Ivy) handily. Columbia’s 11th consecutive win was a breeze, with the top two doubles teams each winning 8-1 to clinch the day’s first point. The Lions then won on the No. 2 through No. 6 courts—all in straight sets—to finish off the 6-1 beat down.

The Lions’ title chances now likely hinge on whether or not they win their final two matches. No. 69 Princeton (16-5, 5-0 Ivy) remains undefeated after 5-2 wins over No. 46 Harvard and Dartmouth this weekend. The Tigers will face a Cornell team (7-8, 0-5 Ivy) that has yet to win an Ivy match, before taking on the Lions on Sunday in Princeton. Yale has three matches remaining. The Bulldogs will face the Big Green and the Crimson next weekend, before taking on Brown on April 26.

If the Lions win their final two matches, they will finish with at least a share of the Ivy title. But in order to win it outright, Columbia must win both of its remaining contests and get a little help. Cornell would have to beat Princeton, and Yale would have to lose one of its last three matches to ensure that a 6-1 record would stand alone as the best in the Ancient Eight.

In the immediate aftermath of Sunday’s match, Weintraub spoke with the team’s three seniors, making sure they knew what was still at stake.

“I told them I’m going to let them have one day to cry, because I know they’re feeling upset right now, but that’s it,” Weintraub said. “We’re going to come back to practice and we’re going to focus because a championship is still on the line.”

The Lions will take on Penn at home next Friday and Princeton in New Jersey next Sunday for their final two matches in the race to defend their Ivy title.

myles.simmons@columbiaspectator.com | @MSmmns210

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