Cornell men’s tennis (17-8, 4-3 Ivy) celebrated Senior Day on Saturday with a 4-2 win over No. 27 Columbia (14-8, 4-3 Ivy), one of the Red’s highest-ranked wins in school history.
“It was great to see the seniors being sent off on the right note, you know, as they’ve invested so much throughout their entire [time] here at Cornell for this program and for this team…,” said Head Coach Silviu Tanasoiu.
Cornell got on the board by securing the doubles point. Senior Alafia Ayeni and junior Vladislav Melnic won at No. 1 doubles and the senior tandem of Evan Bynoe and Pietro Rimondini won at No. 3, giving the Red the initial lead. Ayeni, ranked No. 45 in the latest ITA rankings, won at No. 1 singles, while freshmen Radu Papoe and Adit Sinha won at No. 3 and No. 5 singles, respectively, to clinch the match for Cornell. All three singles matches were won in straight-sets.
“I thought it was a great match honestly…it was a really fitting end to my career because I’ve actually never beaten Columbia, as a team, in my five years of being here,” said Ayeni.
It was a great ending to a turbulent season and to a career for the team’s seniors, many of whom opted to spend an extra year at Cornell to play after the pandemic abruptly ended the 2019-20 season and completely canceled the 2020-21 season.
Although the issues of the pandemic lingered at times, the Achilles’ heel for the team has been its inability to stay healthy. Midway through the season, infections and injuries started piling up, with players being in and out of the lineup for weeks.
“This year definitely has been really tough. You know, we’ve dealt with a lot of injuries within the team, I myself got COVID the first week that I was here, and then as soon as I recovered from COVID, I got injured. So I wasn’t really playing my best tennis until about halfway through,” Ayeni said.
Through all the injuries, Coach Tanasoiu had consistently expressed his pride in the other players stepping up and competing when starters were out. Ayeni echoed his comments, specifically attributing this to the team’s freshman.
“We have a really lucky freshman class and none of them shied away from [the challenge]…I’m proud of that, more than anything else,” Ayeni said.
Ayeni hopes that his, and the other seniors’ influence will rub off on the younger players, helping them develop in the coming years, and advancing Cornell men’s tennis.
“I’m just glad that in whatever capacity that I have been able to provide some sort of positive influence on the freshmen and with the younger group on the team, so that when I’m gone, hopefully they can…just keep getting better and better,” Ayeni said.
Although the team’s season is over, some individual players still have some competing left to do. Ayeni and Melnic both received invitations to compete at the NCAA Individual Tennis Championships. Ayeni was chosen as one of 49 at-large selections to compete in the singles tournament after compiling a solid season. He has a record of 19-6 overall and 5-1 in Ivy League competition, all at the No. 1 singles spot. He will pair with Melnic to compete in the doubles tournament after receiving an automatic bid. Playing exclusively at No. 1 doubles, the senior/junior duo went 19-6 overall and 5-0 in Ivy League play.
The tournament will take place May 23-28 at the Khan Outdoor Tennis Complex in Champaign, IL.