When sophomore Nathan Mao gutted out a second straight set tiebreaker to clinch the match victory over No. 53 Princeton (13-12, 0-3 Ivy), it capped off an up-and-down weekend for No. 36 Cornell men’s tennis (14-4 1-1 Ivy). After losing a heartbreaker to No. 50 Penn (10-8, 2-1 Ivy), the Red bounced back significantly against the Tigers.
Friday’s contest against Penn started out as most Cornell matches have this year — with a loss in doubles. The Red had found some success by shaking up the lineup in their previous match, introducing sophomore Jack McCarthy, whose size and power is tailored for doubles, and freshman Aman Sharma but reverted to their usual lineup against the Quakers. Despite a strong performance from Mao and sophomore Adit Sinha at first doubles, the Red was defeated at number two and number three, and Penn took the point.
Throughout the match, however, neither team could take a convincing lead. Cornell quickly earned three points through straight set wins by Mao, Sharma and sophomore No. 86 Radu Papoe, while Kevin Zhu and Aditya Gupta won convincingly for Penn to knot the match at 3-3.
It all came down to No. 4 singles, where the match between Sinha and Harsh Parikh of Penn was a marathon. Sinha fought back from a first set deficit to win the second, setting up a third set that would decide the entire contest. After neither competitor could win the set in regulation, it came down to a tiebreak. Sinha took the lead early, but Parikh battled back, eventually winning the tiebreaker 11-9 and ending the match in favor of the Quakers.
Mao and Sharma in particular shone throughout the match and over the weekend as a whole. Mao has been a consistent, steadying force for the team throughout the season, putting in strong performances in both singles and doubles. Sharma, however, has only gotten an opportunity in the lineup in the last three matches but has been instrumental in the team’s recent success.
Sharma emphasized the importance of team mentality and performing in the clutch following a strong weekend.
“As a freshman, I felt like I’ve been surrounded by a great group of teammates that have been supporting me and helping me improve on a daily basis,” Sharma said. “It’s been really important for me to do my best to step up for the team when it matters.”
After Friday’s heartbreaking result, Cornell came out firing against Princeton on Sunday. Victories by Mao and Sinha at No. 1 and Papoe and senior Vladislav Melnic at No. 2 secured the doubles point, putting the Red up 1-0.
Only two of the remaining six matches were quick, as Sharma defeated Matthew Bosancic in straight sets, while Melnic was quickly defeated by Thomas Bosancic. Sharma’s match epitomized the strategy he has used recently to dominate his competition, as he played simply and allowed his opponent to expend his energy in the first set before dismantling him in the second.
“I’m definitely a baseliner as a player, and I rely on my movement and speed during matches to wear out my opponents,” Sharma said. “The biggest recent improvement that I’ve made has been mentally, since I’ve been maintaining my composure and calmness on the court much better than ever before.”
After taking the lead 2-1, Cornell would win the next three matches, although none would be easy. Freshman Petar Teodorovic came back from a 6-2 first set loss to take the next two 6-3, before Mao clinched the match with his tiebreak victory. Papoe won in three, marking his seventh straight singles win. Princeton’s remaining point came when Sinha withdrew from a match that looked set to be his second straight marathon, and the Red won 5-2.
Cornell continues its very tough Ivy League schedule with a marquee matchup against No. 15 Harvard (15-5, 3-0 Ivy) on Saturday, before facing Dartmouth (11-10, 1-2 Ivy) on Sunday, both at 1pm. The matches can be streamed on Stretch Live.