Ten Questions Columnist Reena Gilani sat down with tennis captains Venkat Iyer and Alex Sidney to discuss everything from their tennis grunts and fashion style to their mid-winter adventure to Wegmans.
1. How did you each start playing tennis?
A: I was really into golf when I was very young, like three years old. I really liked sports and I was looking for something to do in the winter. Obviously you couldn’t play golf because it was cold outside, so I picked up a couple of tennis lessons and I really enjoyed it.
Do you ever wish that you played golf for Cornell instead?
A: Well I played both tennis and golf until I was 12 and I had to pick one. I always think about what it would’ve been like if I stuck with golf but I’m happy with the decision.
V: That’s so weird. I also played golf when I was young. I started playing golf when I was three, played until I was seven. My sister played a lot of tennis; she won an NCAA title with Duke in tennis so she’s a pro-player. I started hitting balls with her and got into it after that. It’s very similar to him except —
A: I didn’t know that you played golf.
V: I ditched golf when I was seven. My dad used to play college tennis and he wanted us to both play pro tennis so he wanted me to make a choice at a pretty young age about a sport, so I chose tennis.
And do you ever regret it?
V: Not at all. Golf is a long sport; tennis is more action-oriented while golf is a more laid-back sport. I still love golf but tennis is more intense.
Since you’re both from Maryland, did you meet each other before you came to Cornell through tournaments?
V: A little bit.
A: I knew about him, he was always a little older so we didn’t really interact that often.
And now you’re both here. Do you guys ever get sick of each other being together all the time since tennis isn’t a one-season sport?
V: Uh…not at all.
A: Of course not. When you’re with these guys so much, you get past that. You get to the point where they’re a part of you.
V: It’s almost like you expect him or me to say some things, it’s pretty standard. If he doesn’t say something then it’s odd.
A: We know each other so well, it’s crazy.
2. Let’s talk about your play here. Can you tell me about your tennis grunt?
A: It actually changes from match to match, sometimes during the point. It all depends on the type of situation that I’m in. The longer a point goes, the louder it will get. It works for me; I don’t fight it.
V: I have a little bit of a grunt but not like Sidney over here.
A: Yours actually gets pretty loud later in the big points at the perfect times.
V: So basically I wait until the perfect moment to get in my opponent’s face. That’s the strategy.
So you’re using it offensively? Does it distract the opponent?
V: I don’t think so. I think grunting’s all about intensity. Some people like to grunt because they want to be more intense while some people can get away without it.
A: It helps me focus better.
Last year the two of you were nationally ranked in doubles, why did you lose that ranking so quickly?
A: That’s funny. Coach split us up, that’s why.
V: Coach dismantled the all-star squad —
A: The dream team.
V: The dream team of Iyer and Sidney.
A: We took out a team, what were they ranked?
V: I think they were Top-15 in the country. And we beat them.
A: Easily. What was it, 8-1?
V: I think it was.
A: We struggled with doubles last year, as a team on the whole. Coach started trying different combinations. Even if we were good, maybe the other two teams didn’t work out, so it just kept switching around. I’m not really sure what we’re going to do this year. Maybe we’ll reunite.
V: Hopefully there will be some Sidney-Iyer tandem this weekend. You never know.
Which one of you is in better shape?
V: That’s a good question. I’d say both of us are probably the two…I wouldn’t say fittest guys on the team but maybe —
A: For sure.
V: Okay fine, we are the fittest guys on the team. I would say Sidney is a physical freak of nature. When you see this guy on the track, it’s pretty amazing what he can do. I don’t have his athletic gifts, I’m reasonably athletic, but I’m mentally pretty tough so I can handle the pain a little bit. When we battle on the track or in conditioning, it’s a great battle of mental versus physical sometimes. It’s fun to watch. Not really fun to do.
A: You could look at the 400-m times if you really wanted to know.
3. How many rackets have you each cracked during your career?
A: Holy crap, what a question.
V: Zero is my answer. I don’t crack rackets.
A: Throughout my entire career?
Or here at Cornell, whatever’s easier for you to calculate.
A: At Cornell only one. In my entire career? Let’s just say many.
V: He gets a little more angry on court than I do.
A: My intensity sometimes comes out everywhere.
So is it just you’re angrily throwing down a racket or contact or…?
I’ve actually cracked rackets before from hitting forehands, but mostly just intensity.
4. Where do you guys live in Ithaca now?
V: I live on North.
Why do you live on North as a junior?
V: I play music. I play the piano and the guitar.
So do you live in JAM?
A: You play piano and guitar? Do you actually?
V: Yes, you moron. Do you know me?
A: I knew you lived in JAM, and I wondered why the heck you live there.
V: I play those two instruments, my roommate plays cello. We sometimes do some duets. Instruments are my thing whenever I have time to practice.
Will this include your rapping? I was told you’re working on a mix tape.
V: What, a mix tape?! No… Okay fine, I did, believe it or not, make a rap song but that was between me and some other guys, and will stay that way for a long time.
Do you want to sample a few lines?
V: I’m not going to freestyle, I’m sorry. I’m good at making lyrics but not just on the spot.
A: Just drop some lines.
V: I’m not going to drop some beats, man. Not now.
5. Would you say that the two of you are superstitious?
A: Yeah, of course.
V: All tennis players are superstitious.
A: Yeah, in every aspect. How I drink water, the changeovers, which tennis balls I use for each point.
V: From what we eat before a match.
A: I only step on the lines with my right foot.
V: I don’t step on the lines at all.
Do your superstitions apply to school too?
V: I would say if I do really well on a prelim —
V: I like to use the same pencil for the next prelim until the luck runs out.
A: Okay fine, I guess it really does. He loves Mann Library; I love Uris. We battle about which one’s better, which one to go to where we’ll have better luck studying.
V: I mean it’s so obvious that Mann’s better than Uris.
Yeah, I guess nobody really likes Uris. It’s either Mann or Olin.
A: Are you serious?
V: Thank you! Everyone in this school agrees with me, except for this guy.
A: Have you ever been in the A.D. White Library in Uris? It’s great. Other than that, I’ve started going to Carpenter recently. Mann’s too far, man, especially for me to walk to from Collegetown.
V: Mann is the best, man. See that? The best, ‘mann’. Everyone goes there at night, except for you.
A: You’ve been to Uris like once, dude, and at the cocktail lounge. You have no idea. You can’t say anything until you try A.D. White.
6. Can you tell me about your work on the 161 List?
A: Oh, it’s incredible. I was so dedicated to it last year; I did about 52 things. I’ve done a few things this year. It’s been tough because I knocked out all the easier ones, but it’s fun. I get to try new things, spice up my life a little bit. I’m getting to the things where I have to drive somewhere, and since I don’t have a car that’s tough for me to do, especially since I don’t have a bus pass anymore. I can try to have this guy take me places…
V: I’m not taking him places.
Venkat, why do you love your car so much?
V: It’s just a car. I don’t love it. I just use it.
A: You love it, oh my god. You always talk about how much you love your car.
V: I don’t love my car. It’s a Hyundai. It’s not like I’m some fancy rich guy who drives around in a Mercedes. I just like it. I wouldn’t die for it.
And so you don’t use it to help Alex with the 161 things?
V: I wouldn’t let him drive my car, ever. It’s my car so I’m going to drive it.
A: See? He loves it. There you go.
V: I don’t even know. Where would you even want me to take you?
A: I’d have to look back at the list, the plantations maybe?
V: Just walk there.
If he’s not walking to Mann, he’s not walking to the plantations.
A: Yeah, you think I’m going to walk to the plantations? That’s way past Mann. It’s too cold.
7. What is one thing you guys love and hate about [head coach Silviu Tanasoiu]?
V: I love that he’s very intense.
A: Exactly that.
V: If there’s a day, and there are not too many of these since Sidney and I are usually pretty pumped up, when you come in sometimes after practicing every day and it gets a little strenuous. On days like that, Silviu is the exact kind of guy to do that. He pushes you hard.
A: It’s good and bad, though more good, that he’s so stubborn. He’s always right, and everything he says has to be right.
V: A bad thing is that he can imitate people really well. It’s really bad if he’s imitating you because he makes you look like you’re a joke. He’s really good at nailing people’s styles and actions when he imitates them.
8. Alex, what’s your obsession with bomber hats?
A: The one that I have?
V: Oh my god, this guy wore the same bomber hat every single day.
A: Hey, it keeps my head and ears warm. It’s comfortable.
V: What about the fact that it looks ridiculous?
A: It’s routine, it’s just classic and it’s me.
V: It was four months in a row last spring.
Did you wear it to bed, too?
A: I’ve fallen asleep with it on before, which isn’t in the routine but it has happened.
Venkat, do you have any clothing that you wear that regularly?
A: We can talk about how you just wear so much sh—
V: I love to wear wristbands for whatever reason. Not many players do that, but I’ll always wear a wristband on my left and my right. Oh and a hat.
A: Wristbands, knee straps, hat, sometimes bandana. He just wears everything together.
9. What do you like most and least about each other?
A: I love this guy’s work ethic. I think he’s an extremely good leader, and certainly gives a very good example for everyone else on the team to follow. It lifts everyone else up.
V: The best thing about Sidney is the way that he does his conditioning and his workouts. You see him on the tennis court, you see him on the track and in the gym and you see the amount of effort he puts in. He’s got a gift with it and he turns on his intensity. I’ve trained with a lot of athletes and it’s rare to see someone who can turn on the afterburners like Sidney.
What about beyond tennis, as friends?
V: He’s always chill, a relaxed guy. You can talk to him about anything and he’ll usually give you pretty decent advice. He’s honest and a pretty laid back guy.
A: Venkat’s always got some funny comments. You can always count on him to say hilarious things in great situations. But he’s so stubborn about rides! About taking guys to practice…
V: Yeah, if I’m picky about one thing, it’s time. When I was young, my parents instilled a discipline in me about being on time; it’s criminal to not be on time. If I say a 12 p.m. ride, I expect them to be there at 12 p.m. not 12:05.
A: This is good, but if he’s picking up for practice and he says ‘my lot at 3:40’ and you’re there at 3:41, he’s gone.
V: I don’t tolerate lateness, but did that even happen? I think I left you maybe once in my last two years here and everyone has been on time since.
V: Okay fine, maybe it happened twice. But I like a certain discipline with time and tennis. A certain amount of effort needs to be put into everything. You can turn it off and relax all you want, but when it’s about tennis and game time I expect everything to be in order and organized. I think I don’t like that Alex is sometimes a little too chill. We can all relax and play video games, but for someone like Sidney who can turn on his intensity like he does, he should be more intense with his schoolwork sometimes.
A: I got it under control this year, don’t worry.
Speaking of video games, can you tell me about N64?
A: Oh, he loves it.
V: N64 is huge. I shoot an open challenge to anyone in Cornell to challenge me in Mario Kart on N64. I will play you, and I will hopefully beat you.
10. What’s the craziest thing that has happened to the two of you together?
V: Let’s see, there are just so many things…
A: We robbed a bank once.
A: No, but I do have a story for you. It was a cold, windy day last year and practice had just finished around 8 p.m. I had a lab report due the next day and Venkat had a prelim the day after.
V: Yeah, since we both lived in the Low Rises I always gave him a ride back to the dorm. As we were icing after practice, everyone else had left for dinner. We planned on giving one of our teammates a call, but mine was out of battery and Alex left his phone in his room. Eventually, we decided to go to Wegmans.
A: So we finish eating, and as we were walking to the car as it started snowing. It was freezing outside, so we were thankful to get inside the car. Believe it or not, Venkat’s car wouldn't start. We tried for a good 15 minutes and no luck. We couldn't ask any of out friends to come pick us up because my phone was in the dorm and Venkat’s was dead.
V: We pretty much started hyperventilating.
A: Yeah…basically. Panic started to hit us due to the amount of work that had to be done by both of us that night. We finally realized that our only option was to run up the hill, all the way back to North Campus from Wegmans. Arriving back at North was awesome, but a lot of work still laid ahead. Thankfully, Venkat got some quality studying in and I finished my lab report, but with the trade-off of very little sleep that night.
V: Although we got fitter that night.
A: True, that’s all that matters.