March 9, 2001

Cream of the Ivy Crop

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Some people are overzealously cocky, with mega machismo and enough hair gel for seven teenage girls. On the other hand, others are quietly confident and just get the job done. Senior Mike Halperin, the All-World-Beater himself, is most definitely the latter.

If you don’t know who this guy is, then shame on you. Cornell men’s tennis has not seen anybody of his ilk since Dick Savitt ’50, who won the 1951 Wimbledon and Australian Open titles.

Halperin transferred from Brown as a sophomore. The Bears’ loss is the Red’s huge gain.

Last year, Halperin — routinely playing at the number one singles position — went undefeated in Ivy League play and was most-deservedly named the Ivy League Player of the Year. In addition to his Ivy success, he qualified for the Rolex National Championships earlier this year. Despite his individual accolades, he still maintains a modest, down-to-earth persona.

“If I had to describe my leadership style, I would say that I lead by example,” surmised Halperin.

Boca Raton, Florida, his hometown, is a hotbed for competitive tennis. Nonetheless, he jumped into tennis initially for the fun of it.

“My parents didn’t put any pressure on me at the beginning. As I got better, they suggested that maybe I should look into tennis a little bit more seriously,” Halperin said. “Early in my tennis experience, I learned that I just loved competition, so I just stuck with it.”

With a stellar record, it would be easy for Halperin to rest on his laurels and focus entirely on himself. However, nothing could be further from the truth.

“If I see someone who could be pushing themselves harder, whether that be during practice or in a match, then I get on him about it,” said Halperin.

Furthermore, Halperin could choose to focus on his post-graduate tennis opportunities, but he is in the here and now. The fall offered the opportunity to focus more on the individual. On the other hand, the spring is all about the team.

“I’ve accomplished many individual goals, but this spring is all about all of us and our quest for the Ivy League team title,” he said. “I am real excited for us this year.”

The Red is deep with talent. This team is in the best shape that it has been in for the past five years.

“The competition for the top six playing spots is fierce. Several of the guys who might not be fortunate enough to play for us during a particular match, are usually good enough to be one of the top six at our competitor schools.”

Further illustrating his quiet leadership, he counsels the younger players on the team.

“I tell them to wait their turn and keep pushing themselves,” Halperin said. “One day they’ll be the experienced ones who will have to lead this team.”

The young players waiting in the wings are most valuable in that they keep the rest of the team hungry for spots and allow for no slip ups.

Halperin has a quiet sense of confidence about himself that is refreshing. Unlike the stars of many teams who may boast to others how good they are, he just lets his play do the talking. Halperin has a good head on his shoulders, critical for tennis and for overcoming the injuries that have plagued him for his first two seasons at Cornell.

“Tennis for me is mostly mental,” he explained. “I just let my physical abilities just take over. I don’t force anything. I just try to let it happen.”

With aspirations of being on the ATP Tour, the professional tennis circuit, he is deferring any law school acceptances as he will look to enter some professional tournaments. With enough points garnered at these smaller events, he can qualify for a shot at one of the Grand Slam tournaments.

When asked to compare his game to a professional player, he mentioned Pete Sampras.

“I like to serve and volley.” Halperin said. “Sampras has a big serve and just attacks his opponents with the net game.”

Being healthy for the first time in a long time, Halperin feels as good as ever and is destined to repeat his performance from last year.

This time around, though, he’ll have a supporting cast. And if you ask him, he wouldn’t have it any other way.

Archived article by Donald Lee