Men’s tennis team opens Ivy League play with pair of losses

by Alexander Agadjanian | 4/7/15 6:01pm

In its first conference play, the men’s tennis team stumbled out of the gates.

Facing some of the strongest competition in the Ivy League in the opening weekend of conference play, the No. 54 men’s tennis team fell to No. 22 Columbia University 6-1 on Saturday and lost to No. 51 Cornell University 5-2 on Sunday to bring its overall season record to 9-10 and its Ivy League record to 0-2.

In its first conference match of the season, the Big Green encountered a traditional powerhouse in Columbia (9-5, 2-0). The team began the day with a start strong in doubles, with the No. 1 doubles pairing of Chris Kipouras ’15 and Dovydas Sakinis ’16 — the No. 20 team in the nation — finishing first, giving the men an early advantage over the Lions. The duo overcame Columbia’s No. 1 pair of senior Winston Lin and junior Mike Vermeer, the country’s No. 62 doubles pair, by a score of 6-2.

“We did really well,” Sakinis said. “It was a close match even though it was 6-2. [It] sounds kind of easy in doubles, but I think we won like four games in deuce point which is really close, and [Kipouras] came with really good shots in the key moments. It was a really good doubles performance by us.”

The Big Green’s other two doubles teams, however, could not take advantage of the early lead. Columbia won the No. 2 match 6-4 and the No. 3 match 7-5 to grab the overall doubles point.

“The doubles point was really close,” head coach Chris Drake said. “[Kipouras and Sakinis] played a good match and beat a good team. We had a close match at [court] 2, we had some chances to get back in it that we couldn’t capitalize on. At [court] 3 we had a lead early on that we couldn’t sustain. When we were executing well, we had a good chance to win the point, but it just kind of got away from us at the end."

Down a point after the doubles matches, the Big Green began many of its six singles matches on a strong note, proving it could go toe-to-toe with the reigning Ivy League champions. Columbia, however, soon took control of the courts, and the Lions ultimately emerged triumphant in all but one of the singles matches. Victories in three consecutive matches in singles competition gave Columbia the definitive 4-0 edge, clinching the victory for the Lions before the other matches concluded.

“In singles we came out strong right away,” Drake said. “We got up early in the first sets on four different courts, but we could have done a better job when [Columbia] responded. When they responded and got back into those sets, I thought our intensity dropped a little bit. We needed to maintain that a little bit more.”

The one salient bright spot of the afternoon for the Big Green came in the struggle between the two strongest competitors on all the courts — Sakinis and Columbia’s ace, Lin, in the No. 1 singles match. Playing against the No. 21 player in the nation and one of the most formidable opponents he will see all season, Sakinis, ranked 53rd in singles, defeated Lin 6-3, 7-6 to notch the sole point of the day for the Big Green.

The victory over such a successful and competitive opponent carried extra meaning for Sakinis as well, who, as a junior, had yet to defeat Lin in his career. Saturday’s meeting represented the last chance Sakinis had at such a feat, as the Columbia athlete is in his last collegiate season.

“I think it was the fourth time [I played against Lin],” Sakinis said. “I lost two and we didn’t finish the match once, and [Saturday] was the first time I won so I was really happy with that.”

While the overall competition ended in a 6-1 loss for the men’s team, Sakinis agreed that the match was in fact more competitive than the score line would indicate.

“We were in close matches. Everyone was fighting for a long time, I think we had a chance to win in [almost] every court,” he said. “They’re a really good team, probably the best team in the Ivy League at the moment, but we were there — we’re not that far [from them].”

A crowd of almost 400 came out in support of the Big Green on Saturday, marking a positive sign for the program and the team as it continues to grow in the College’s athletics landscape.

“The crowd was amazing.” Sakinis said. “I’ve never played in this environment before. It was the best-ever Dartmouth match I’ve played in. People did a good job of promoting it.”

In their match against the visiting Cornell Big Red (9-7, 1-2) the following afternoon, the men once again had difficulty securing the doubles point. Throughout all three of the opening doubles matches, Big Green teams quickly fell into one-game deficits.

The No. 3 doubles match was the quickest to end, securing a 6-2 victory for Cornell. The other two doubles matches came down to the wire, but Cornell won the doubles point when the Big Red No. 2 team won 7-5, leading the No. 1 match to expire while tied at six. Already in a one-point hole, the Big Green faltered slightly as it entered the singles matches, losing the first sets in both the No. 3 and No. 4 matches. The team, however, responded accordingly, winning the first sets at the No. 1, No. 2 and No. 5 positions.

With five of the six matches having completed their first sets, three won by Dartmouth players and the other two going to Cornell, Sam Todd ’15 secured the crucial first set for his No. 6 singles match, giving the Big Green hope for the four match wins it needed for the overall victory.

The No. 2 singles match ended first, as Kipouras, No. 110 in the nation, quickly nabbed a 6-4, 6-2 victory to level the overall contest score at 1-1. Sakinis followed that effort with a 6-3, 6-2 win of his own in the No. 1 match to push the score line to a 2-1 Big Green lead.

Yet the Big Green streak — and any momentum gained from its top two players’ victories — would come to a halt soon after. In the No. 4 singles match, Big Red sophomore Chris Vrabel defeated George Wall ’17 6-1, 7-6 to even the overall score at two points per team. The remaining three matches ran long, all of which were hotly contested and lasted the entire three-set length.

On court 2 in the No. 3 singles, Ciro Riccardi ’18 gave a valiant effort to fight back against Cornell’s Stefan Vinti after falling easily in the first set 6-1, and the Big Green athlete took the second set 6-4. As the other two remaining singles matches on courts 1 and 6 carried on, Riccardi was the first to yield, losing 6-1 in the final set to give Cornell a 3-2 overall match lead.

Not long after the Big Red grew closer to deciding the win, the No. 5 and 6 singles matches began to take a turn for the worse for the Big Green. Todd, having won the first set at 7-6 and lost the second 7-5, suffered leg cramps, causing the match to be delayed.

On court 1, Cornell’s Colin Sinclair drowned any chance Dartmouth had at a comeback, winning the No. 5 match 2-6, 6-1, 7-6, against Max Schmidt ’17. The result won the necessary fourth point for Cornell, giving the Big Red the 5-2 victory.

“It was definitely an improvement,” Todd said about his team’s effort on Sunday. “We try to focus on the things we can control, us moreso than who we’re playing.”

The men’s tennis team will hit the road next weekend for a match on Saturday, April 11 at Princeton University and a match on Sunday, April 12 at the University of Pennsylvania.